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National Academy of Sciences (US), National Academy of Engineering (US), and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Underrepresented Groups and the Expansion of the Science and Engineering Workforce Pipeline. Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011.

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Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation.

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The availability of financial support affects postsecondary attendance and persistence for students in general and for underrepresented minority students in particular. This should come as little or no surprise, especially in this era of rising tuition; it should also be no surprise that the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM is affected by trends in tuition and aid in many of the same ways as other students are affected. However, there are issues that are specific to STEM and others specific to underrepresented minorities. Further, there are important differences between aid at the undergraduate and graduate levels. But in the end, however one slices it, money matters.


Clewell et al.(2005) found, when reviewing the literature, that financial support has been demonstrated to have a “positive influence on student persistence” (Murdock 1987, St. John 1991, St. John, Kirschstein, and Noell 1991).1 In the most recent study of college completion, Bowen et al. (2009) reported:

We find big gaps by family income in completion rates and in the time it takes to earn degrees—even after we control for related differences in factors like parental education. For example, at the flagships 83 percent of students from the top half of the income distribution graduate within six years, but only 68 percent from the bottom half do so: a difference of 15 percentage points. The difference in four-year graduation rates is 19 points. We also find that differences across states in the net prices paid by students have significant effects on the odds that a low-income student will graduate: the higher the net price, the lower the completion rate (other things equal). On the other hand, there is no correlation between net price and completion rates for high-income students, a finding that raises real questions about the wisdom of merit-aid programs and policies aimed at keeping tuition low across the board.2

Because of the importance of financial aid to college attendance and completion, the College Board has recently argued that it is important to keep college affordable “by controlling college costs, using available aid and resources wisely and insisting that state governments meet their obligations for funding higher education.” More specifically, the College Board recommended “more need-based grant aid while simplifying and making financial aid processes more transparent.” The College Board (2009) noted that need-based aid should keep pace with inflation; student debt should be minimized; financial aid processes should be made more transparent and predictable; and institutions should be given incentives to enroll and graduate more low-income and first-generation students.3

Indeed, one of the most compelling factors affecting the supply of minority STEM graduates has involved financial incentives and the availability of targeted scholarships. Yet this has been one of the most highly debated and legally attacked issues in higher education. The highly visible federal court actions (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Hopwood v. Texas, Johnson v. Board of Regents, and Gratz v. Bollinger) mainly addressed race in admissions decisions.

While critically important for those selective institutions that consider race as part of the admissions process, the affirmative action issue in financial aid has significance—and potential impact—that extends beyond the question of admissions. First, minority students are more likely to come from low-income families. As a result, for most of these students, the availability of financial aid is a significant factor affecting their ability to go to college. Second, at a time of increasing national diversity, and with the recognition that we can “leave no child behind,” we face the prospect that by not providing the necessary financial aid supporting college and university attendance, college campuses “will be missing 800,000 otherwise qualified minority students between now and 2015, with the commensurate losses of billions of dollars to the national economy.4

Race-based scholarships and fellowships funded by federal agencies and states have been subject to widespread reform as the result of legal challenges. For example, in Podberesky v. Kirwan (1994), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that a race-exclusive merit scholarship program at the University of Maryland at College Park was unconstitutional. The Benjamin Banneker scholarship for African Americans was consolidated with another campus-based program. Similarly, the Minority Graduate Research Fellowship Program administered by the National Science Foundation was eliminated as a separate program following a lawsuit challenging that it was discriminatory. Despite these challenges and the continuing dialogue about the effectiveness of race-neutral policies, no one denies the fact that we had the most rapid growth of minorities in STEM fields during this period.


College affordability has been a perennial issue since World War II, particularly for low- and middle-income students. Affordability and opportunity were first addressed by the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (commonly known as the G.I. Bill), which dramatically increased both college enrollment and the size of the American middle class, though research has shown that the benefits were largely for white males.5 Since then, key questions of support have evolved over time. Today they focus on appropriate mechanisms of support (grants, loans, tax benefits), whether grants should be need based or merit based, and the overall cost of college today. Critics have questioned the increased “costs” associated with undergraduate education, particularly at private colleges, but also among the public ones. Administrators have pointed out, though, that while there have been increases in costs (e.g., information technology, health care) and decreases in state appropriations, much of what appears to be increases in cost has been an increase in tuition combined with an increase in aid, essentially a shift in the college pricing structure from a low-tuition/low-aid approach to a high-tuition/high-aid financial model.

Therefore, the focus needs to be how to allocate aid so that “net tuition” (tuition/fees/room and board minus financial aid: what a student or family will actually pay) is appropriate to the student, family, and institution.

The issue of aid and affordability, though, is complex, because it is affected by state policies, federal programs, and institutional aid. As shown in Figure 5-1, federal aid is the largest source of financial support for undergraduates although, by itself, just about half of all aid. The rest is provided through state and institutional aid.

Pie chart showing the three primary sources of financial aid received by undergraduate students, 2007 to 2008


Source of financial aid received by undergraduates, 2007–2008. SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2007–2008 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:08).

State governments play a key financial role for public institutions, where the large majority of students are enrolled, and they have two key policy levers with regard to college affordability: state appropriations to institutions (which affect tuition) and individual financial aid programs (which then affect net tuition). Tuition, of course, has risen significantly in the last quarter century, regularly outpacing inflation, but this trend has been substantially affected by trends in state funding for higher education. On a per capita basis, that funding has steadily declined during this period, reaching a 25-year low in 2004–2005 before turning up and then plummeting down again in the current economic recession. Consequently, tuition at public institutions has increased substantially. Institutions often use tuition income to replace revenue deficits, with the concomitant effect of decreasing affordability for all students but especially for underrepresented students from low-income backgrounds.

Meanwhile, as tuition has increased, financial aid has taken on a more salient role. Under the high-tuition/high-aid model, aid that is generally need based will result in a financial model in which wealthier families subsidize those of lower income. However, there has been an ongoing shift at the state level recently from need-based aid toward merit-based financial aid that undermines this model. Merit-based recipients, selected on the basis of test scores, grade-point average, and other academic achievements, accounted for 24 percent of state grants in 2004–2005, up from 9 percent in 1984.6 Several states have introduced new, academically based aid programs that adopt Georgia’s “Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally” (HOPE) Scholarship program model. Approximately 16 states have implemented such programs with varying qualifying criteria.

Advocates for merit-based programs contend that low-income students are not excluded and that these programs motivate more students to excel academically. Critics, on the other hand, argue that low-income students are disadvantaged because they attend schools that do not have the resources to support academic excellence, and so these students do not have the test scores and grade-point averages to qualify. Consequently, scholarships from merit-based programs disproportionately are awarded to white and upper-income students. However, for states that have had enough data and history to allow an in-depth analysis of the effects by race (Arkansas, Florida, and Mississippi), Dynarski (2004) found that merit-based programs have helped to close racial gaps in participation.7 This may be attributed to the simplicity of the programs themselves and the wide publicity given to these programs among high school counselors. However, additional research on a broader range of states is needed to provide a clearer view of the effects by race/ethnicity of state shifts to merit-based aid.

The federal government plays a dual role that focuses both on college access generally and support for students in STEM programs more specifically. Funding for federal financial aid programs that are primarily need-based have increased over time: for example, Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), Perkins loans, and subsidized Stafford loans. Unfortunately, the maximum Pell Grant award, the largest direct college subsidy, has not increased proportionately to tuition increases and inflation-adjusted dollars, and newly implemented eligibility policies are expected to shift the income threshold and exclude students who currently qualify for Pell Grants. The current administration has, in the meantime, proposed program changes that would increase the maximum Pell Grant by $200, to $5,550, for the 2010–2011 academic year. If this is enacted, an additional 260,000 students would be eligible for a grant. Further, the administration has proposed making the Pell Grant an entitlement. In so doing, the administration would index the maximum award to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) plus a percentage point in order to help shift the rate of increase relative to tuition increases. That change, if enacted, would take effect in 2010–2011.8

While funding for need-based programs has not kept pace with inflation, funding for programs that do not target low-income students— unsubsidized Stafford loans, federal loans to parents (PLUS), and tax benefits have increased at faster rates. Thus, federal policy—similar to state policies—has also shifted support toward middle- and upper-income students. Much of this redirection of federal aid is the result of pressure from middle-income families to make college more affordable. The focus is on affordability rather than access.

In addition, the use of loans as part of undergraduate financing plays a further complex role. For example, researchers have found that minorities and students with poor academic preparation have a significant aversion to debt due to the greater risk of loan default.9 Moreover, even if students from low- and middle-income families recognize the long-term value of an investment in higher education, the debt burden quickly mounts. They may deal with this by leaving school after completion of a bachelor’s degree, reducing the number of minority students continuing to graduate school. Or they may deal with it by working full- or part-time, which disadvantages them relative to others because they cannot concentrate full time on their studies and research. The effect of these financial factors is seen in persistence rates and degree attainment. For example, for the 2003 cohort who started at four-year institutions, 73 percent of African Americans and 76 percent of Hispanics were still enrolled or with a certificate/degree three years after enrolling, compared to 83 percent of whites and 89 percent of Asian Americans.10

Institutions are pivotal in the recruitment and retention of under-represented minorities, and they impact the persistence of these students through the provision of institutional aid, much of which is need based. They award 42 percent of all grant aid to undergraduates, whereas the federal government provides 31 percent of the total. In 2006–2007, 80 percent of institutional grant aid was need based in private doctorate-granting institutions with tuition above the median, compared to 61 percent in doctorate-granting institutions with lower tuition.11

Researchers such as Gross, Hossler, and Ziskin(2007)12 and Gansemer-Topf and Schuh(2005)13 have examined the relationship between institutional aid and student persistence. They cite the need for institutions, especially low-selectivity institutions, to allocate more resources for institutional scholarships and grants in order to improve retention and graduation. High-selectivity institutions should divert resources for the same purpose also, if they are committed to diversifying the student body by socioeconomic status or other demographics.

Some institutions have done precisely that. For example, Harvard University expanded financial aid for low- and middle-income families by eliminating the requirement for parents in families with less than $60,000 income to contribute to the cost of their children attending the institution. Harvard also reduced the contributions of families with incomes between $60,000 and $80,000. Similarly, Brown University approved a new financial aid policy that eliminates loans for students whose family incomes are less than $100,000, reduces loans for all students who receive financial aid, and no longer requires a parental contribution from most families with incomes of up to $60,000. The G. Wayne Clough Georgia Tech Promise Program offers financial awards to Georgia residents whose families have an annual income of less than $33,300 by filling a gap in the financial aid support system for these students.

Some authors reference Tinto’s (1993) interactionalist theory of student departure as the basis for their hypotheses about the impact of institutional aid. Tinto proposed that the more students interact with their academic and social environments, the more likely they are to persist. He acknowledged that organizational behavior is an important way to enhance a student’s integration to his or her institution. Institutional financial aid can be viewed as an expression of commitment.

In addition to these more global policies, institutions can often be helpful in an ad hoc, just-in-time manner by providing small amounts of funding. Very often lower-income students struggle with cash flow problems. These are temporary problems, not very large scale, that can be reasonably addressed through an emergency or revolving loan fund. The University of Texas El Paso, for example, addresses these issues in two ways: First, there is a revolving loan fund for the purchase of books. Students can take out a loan at the beginning of the semester to pay for books and then pay off the loan over the course of the semester. Second, the university has an emergency loan fund that can help students in need deal with a specific issue. Unfortunately, small cash flow problems and emergencies that have financial implications can derail a student’s education, and they need not do so. A small infusion of funds can help tide over students and keep them on track.

In conclusion, we note two recent reports that have focused in full or in part on the subject of financial aid and its potential reform.

First, the Rethinking Student Aid study group convened by the College Board (2008a) recently recommended a major overhaul of the financial aid system.14 Specifically, they propose the following:

  • Make federal financial aid simple, clear, and transparent
  • Target loan subsidies toward assisting students in repayment
  • Develop a savings program for low-income families analogous to the current federal savings programs that subsidize the college savings of wealthier families
  • Provide incentives that reward colleges and universities for supporting their students successfully through college toward completion of their degrees and incentives for states to support the goals of the federal aid system.

Second, the Spellings Commission also sought to improve financial aid by recommending an improvement in the financial aid process, transparency in net price, and better targeting of financial aid.15 Specifically, its recommendations included:

  • Replacing FAFSA with a shorter and simpler application form;
  • Significantly increasing need-based student aid;
  • Attending to the financial aid needs of transfer students;
  • Consolidating federal grant programs to increase the purchasing power of the Pell Grant;
  • Developing, at the institutional level, new and innovative means to control costs, improve productivity, and increase the supply of higher education;
  • Making available data on costs and price accessible to consumers; and
  • The preparation, by NCES, of timely annual public reports on college revenues and expenditures, including analysis of major changes from year to year, at the sector and state level.

There will continue to be dialogue on these issues, to be sure, but these policies regarding support provide the foundation of opportunity for under-represented minority students, as they do for all.


The Role of Financial Support

While general need-based and merit-based support are provided by the federal government, states, and institutions, financial support for students in STEM is provided primarily by the federal government with some additional foundation support.

The need for financial support for students in STEM fields has been demonstrated in a series of reports. NCES (2000) found that degree completion in science and engineering was positively related to receiving financial aid.16 The NRC (2005), in its assessment of the minority research training programs at NIH, found that funding was critical to the success of students in biomedical and behavioral programs. Merit-based financial support allowed these students to focus their time and effort on their studies and research, contributing strongly to their success. Indeed, the report found that when such support is lacking and undergraduates already greatly challenged by a demanding research program in addition to a full course load take on additional outside work to make ends meet, it is a “recipe for disaster” (2005, 8).17 NCES (2000) noted that parental financial support allows higher-income students to focus on their studies, while ACE (2005) found that the number of hours worked while in college was strongly related to persistence in STEM—noncompleters were more likely to have been working 15 hours or more per week—and Oseguera et al. (2006) found that the need to work during the undergraduate years can complicate the pursuit of majors perceived to be time-intensive, including those in the sciences.18

At the graduate level, the Council of Graduate Schools has found through their PhD Completions Project that financial support, mentoring/ advising, and family support are the main factors that contributed to the completion of doctoral degrees. CGS reports that four-fifths (80 percent) of respondents indicated that financial support was a main factor in their ability to complete their doctoral program. Graduates from mathematics and physical sciences programs were the most likely to report that financial support was one of the main factors enabling them to complete their degree (83 percent), followed by engineering and life sciences (both at 82 percent, social sciences (80 percent), and humanities (73 percent).19

Financial Support for Undergraduates in STEM

Rising Above the Gathering Storm argued that the educational attainment of U.S. students in the natural sciences and engineering lags behind that of other OECD countries and recommended national action to address the gap so that we can sustain our competitiveness in a global economy that requires high wages to be justified by talent. It recommended that the United States “increase the number and proportion of U.S. citizens who earn bachelor’s degrees in the physical sciences, life sciences, engineering, and mathematics by providing 25,000 new 4-year competitive undergraduate scholarships each year to U.S. citizens attending U.S. institutions.20

The Higher Education Reconciliation Act of 2006, which became effective July 1, 2006, created the Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG) Program and National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant (National SMART Grant) Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, partly fulfilling the Gathering Storm recommendation. The program awards need-based Academic Competitiveness Grants to first- and second-year undergraduates who have completed a rigorous high school curriculum and National SMART Grants to third- and fourth-year undergraduates majoring in certain technical fields or foreign languages deemed vital to national security. An early audit of the program found that participation in these programs was low and that the Department of Education was not undertaking enough effort to promote the grants.21 It is our understanding that participation has increased, but with resources more limited, we hope that the current departmental administration will make every effort to ensure that these funds are utilized effectively.

Other federal programs that support undergraduates in STEM include programs administered by the National Science Foundation. NSF STEM education programs that include financial support for undergraduates include:

  • The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP), which seeks to increase the number of students (U.S. citizens or permanent residents) receiving associate or baccalaureate degrees in established or emerging STEM fields. Financial incentives are provided to students through grants awarded to single institutions and consortia.22
  • NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM), which makes grants to institutions of higher education to support scholarships for academically talented, financially needy students, enabling them to enter the workforce following completion of an associate, baccalaureate, or graduate degree in science and engineering disciplines. Grantee institutions are responsible for selecting scholarship recipients, reporting demographic information about student scholars, and managing the S-STEM project at the institution.23
  • Federal Cyber Service, which is a Scholarship for Service (SFS) program that provides funding to institutions to award scholarships in information assurance and computer security fields. Scholarship recipients become part of the Federal Cyber Service of information technology specialists who ensure the protection of the U.S. government’s information infrastructure.24

In addition to these programs, there are NSF, NIH, and NASA programs that provide financial support more specifically to underrepresented minorities in STEM.

Financial Support for Graduate Education

Data on the financial support for science and engineering graduate students provide two windows into how students are supported in these fields. First, data on graduate enrollment indicate how graduate students—both at the master’s and doctoral level—are financed. Second, data on new doctorates provide a picture of how those who complete S&E doctoral degrees were supported.

Enrolled Graduate Students

The data on current S&E graduate students show that for two-thirds of students, their primary financial support came from the federal government, state government, university sources, employers, nonprofit organizations, and foreign government. One-third of current S&E graduate students are self-supporting, relying on personal or family funds, making self-support their largest primary source of support. (This is substantially higher than for S&E doctorate recipients, with just 10 percent reporting personal funds as the primary source of support in graduate school.) The second largest mechanism is the research assistantship (25 percent), teaching assistantships (18 percent), and fellowships or traineeships (12 percent). The federal government is the second largest source, providing financial support for one-fifth of full-time graduate students in 2006.

As shown in Figure 5-2, there is variation by field. For example, in fall 2006, full-time students in physical sciences were financially supported mainly through federally funded research assistantships (RAs) (42 percent) and teaching assistantships (TAs) (38 percent). RAs also were important in agricultural sciences (57 percent); biological sciences (42 percent); earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences (41 percent); and engineering (40 percent). In mathematics, more than half (53 percent) of full-time students were supported primarily through TAs and another 21 percent were self-supported. Full-time students in the social and behavioral sciences were mainly self-supporting (46 percent) or received TAs (20 percent), and students in medical/other life sciences were mainly self-supporting (60 percent).25 These variances can be seen in the doctoral data as well.

Chart showing the distribution of full-time science and engineering graduate students by field of study and mechanism of financial support in 2006


Full-time S&E graduate students by field and mechanism of support, 2006. SOURCE: Science and Engineering Indicators 2010, Figure 2-9.

Financial Support for S&E Doctorates

The federal government is a more significant funder of doctoral education in science and engineering, primarily through federally funded RAs, but also through a limited number of TAs, individual fellowships, and institutional grants that support traineeships. As shown in Table 5-1, the primary source of support for 2007 S&E doctorate recipients was a research assistantship (34.5 percent), followed by a fellowship or traineeship 19.4 percent), teaching assistantship (14.5 percent), personal support (10.4 percent), and grant/stipend (6.2 percent) (National Science Board, 2010, Appendix Table 2-24).26 (Box 5-1 also reports data on financial support collected by the Council of Graduate Schools Doctoral Completions project.)

Table Icon


Primary Support Mechanisms for S&E Doctorate Recipients, by Citizenship, Sex, and Race/Ethnicity, 2007.

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BOX 5-1

Financial Support of Doctoral Completion. The overwhelming majority of respondents received financial support for their doctoral study (94 percent) and 70 percent reported that they were guaranteed multiyear support at the time of admission. Compared (more...)

Graduate research assistantships are generally funded through federal research grants awarded to universities. The other primary sources of federal support, particularly fellowships and traineeships, are provided through such programs as:27

  • Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Program, National Institutes of Health ($761.0 million)
  • Graduate Research Fellowships, National Science Foundation, ($93.36 million)
  • Integrated Graduate Education and Research Traineeships (IGERT), National Science Foundation ($65.42 million)
  • Graduate Teaching Fellowships in K-12 Education, National Science Foundation (GK12) ($50.65 million)
  • Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Program, U.S. Department of Education ($32.175 million)
  • National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowships, U.S. Department of Defense ($31.6 million)
  • Graduate Fellowships in Science, Mathematics and Engineering, U.S Department of Energy (new)
  • Science Master’s Program, National Science Foundation (new)

There are other programs as well, though these are the largest.

While most science and engineering graduate students actually rely on multiple sources of support rather than one primary source, the key to retention and reduced time-to-degree is sustained funding. The ideal funding package—particularly at the graduate school level—would allow the student to focus on studies and research full time, without increasing debt burden, and would include stipend, full tuition and fees, research and travel allowance, cost of living subsidy, health insurance, and other applicable costs of education.

A final financial consideration at the graduate level is the availability of funding for professional development activities. To the extent that students can participate in conferences, present papers, engage in summer research, or take advantage of similar activities, the deeper their commitment to their program, their discipline, and their profession. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds will likely require additional financial support for these activities as well. Sources of this support may include institutional funds or funding from federal or philanthropic programs.


Returning once again to the four approaches to increasing the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM, it is clear that under-represented minorities may benefit from:

  • General financial aid programs: Need-based programs such as the Pell Grant can and should be used to support low-income underrepresented minority students, including those interested in STEM, in attending college.
  • General programs to assist underrepresented minorities: Programs designed to support underrepresented minorities in undergraduate or graduate programs, such as the Ford Foundation Fellowship, can be used to support students in STEM as well as other fields.
  • Programs supporting STEM education: Underrepresented minorities can and should be supported under programs designed to increase U.S. citizen participation in STEM, including the American Competitiveness and SMART Grant programs at the undergraduate level and federal research assistantship, fellowship, and traineeships programs at the graduate level.
  • Programs supporting underrepresented minorities in STEM: To meet the specific needs of underrepresented minorities in STEM who are not covered by the above programs or who need extra incentives to participate in STEM, additional programs focusing on underrepresented minorities are also important to achieving the national goal of increased participation.

It is to these latter programs we turn now.

We began this chapter by reviewing the research indicating that financial support is strongly correlated with postsecondary completion, a finding that applies to underrepresented minorities as well as others. Data show, however, that in fact the issue of financial support is typically more salient for underrepresented minorities. At a general level, the median household income for underrepresented minorities is lower than for whites and Asian Americans. It can be seen at a more specific level as well in data that illustrate the consequences of insufficient support.

Data from the NSF 2007–2008 Survey of Earned Doctorates, for example, show that in general underrepresented minorities—and African Americans in particular—are more likely to draw on personal and family resources for support when working on a doctorate.

Differences in the various modes of financial support overall were found among racial/ethnic groups, in part reflecting differences in distributions among broad fields of study (figure 18; table 22). Black doctorate recipients indicated the greatest reliance on their own resources to finance their doctoral program (41 percent), followed by American Indians (32 percent), Hispanics (29 percent), and multiracial recipients (25 percent) (table 22). Asians were the least likely of the racial/ethnic minority groups to report using their own resources (15 percent) (NSF, 2008, 16).28

This is true for underrepresented minorities in science and engineering as well. Data on primary mechanism of support for science and engineering doctorates, as shown in Table 5-1, show that underrepresented minorities are twice as likely (20.5 percent) as the average science and engineering doctorate (10.4 percent) to report self-support as their primary mechanism of support. Not surprisingly, as shown in Figure 5-3, underrepresented minorities—and, again, African Americans in particular—report higher debt burdens across fields on completion of a doctorate.

Vertical bar chart showing U.S. citizen and permanent resident doctorate recipients with levels of graduate school debt greater than $30,000, by field of study and race and ethnicity, 2008


U.S. citizen and permanent resident doctorate recipients with levels of graduate school debt greater than $30,000, by broad field of study and race/ethnicity, 2008. SOURCE: National Science Foundation, Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, Summary (more...)

These trends have important consequences. First, self-support and loans create a larger burden for underrepresented minorities both during and after graduation. The need to rely on personal sources—particularly outside work—means that the student has less time to focus on study and research and leads to lower grades, longer time-to-degree, and higher probability of attrition as noncompleters are more likely to have engaged in outside work. Clewell et al. (2005) in their review of the research literature found:

Studies have shown that holding a part-time job off-campus may be negatively related to persistence in college (Astin 1993), especially for URMs (Nora, Cabrera, Hagedorn, and Pascarella 1996). Pascarella and Terenzini (1991), in their review of the research on this topic, concluded that the evidence suggested that working during college, especially in a job that was related to one’s major or career goals, had a positive impact on career choice, attainment, and level of professional responsibility attained early in a career.29

Second, and even more important, the burden on the personal finances and debt of those who attend college and graduate school can also serve as a market signal that likely deters other underrepresented minorities from attending, participating, and completing in STEM in the first place, which keeps the proportions of underrepresented minorities in STEM low.

While some of the financial problem can be addressed through need-based programs, there remains a strong need for programs that target under-represented minorities. Researchers have found that financial incentives are most effective in reducing attrition among low-income and minority students when provided in conjunction with academic support and campus integration, which we will discuss further in the next chapter. The most recent scholarship in this area argues for integrated models of student persistence that recognize the interrelatedness among financial circumstances, academic experiences, student perceptions of their likelihood of program completion, environmental variables, and social support from significant others in the student’s family and community. One such model is provided by the NSF’s Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP). As shown in Figure 5-4, graduates of LSAMP programs have a higher propensity for additional coursework, graduate enrollment, and graduate degree completion, both in STEM and overall, compared to both white and Asian American students and other underrepresented minority students not in an LSAMP program.

Chart showing graduate coursework, degrees pursued, and degrees completed by participants in the NSF Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, com pared to underrepresented minority, white, and Asian American students nationally, 2005


Graduate coursework, degrees pursued, and degrees completed, LSAMP participants compared to national Underrepresented Minorities and National White and Asian American Graduates. SOURCE: Clewell et al., Final Report of the Evaluation of the Louis Stokes (more...)

At the doctoral level, again, the package and timing of support are critical. Underrepresented minority students are more likely to receive fellowships than any other type of support and least likely to be supported by research assistantships, as shown in Table 5-2. The use of traineeships and research assistantships, however, can expose more underrepresented minority students to teaching and research experiences and provide opportunities for acquisition of scientific skill, professional development, and social integration into a student’s program or department. In general, the availability of a range of financial support options, tailored to the needs of students at a particular point in their graduate studies, can be the most effective way to increase recruitment and reduce attrition of underrepresented minority graduate students in STEM.

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Primary Mechanisms of Support for S&E Doctorate Recipients bv Citizenship, Sex, and Race/Ethnicity, 2005.

Federal programs that provide support to underrepresented minorities in STEM include:


  • National Science Foundation, Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP): This program is aimed at increasing the quality and quantity of students successfully completing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) baccalaureate degree programs and at increasing the number of students interested in, academically qualified for, and matriculated into programs of graduate study. LSAMP supports sustained and comprehensive approaches that facilitate achievement of the long-term goal of increasing the number of students who earn doctorates in STEM fields, particularly those from populations underrepresented in STEM fields. The program goals are accomplished through the formation of multi-institution alliances. Phase I awards place emphasis on aggregate baccalaureate production. Phase II awards augment the Phase I emphasis with attention to individual student retention and progression to baccalaureate degrees. Phase III awards augment the Phase I and Phase II with attention to aggregate student progression to graduate school entry.30
  • National Institutes of Health, Bridges to the Baccalaureate: The Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program provides support to institutions to help students make transitions at a critical stage in their development as scientists. The program is aimed at helping students make the transition from two-year junior or community colleges to full four-year baccalaureate programs. The program targets students from groups underrepresented in the biomedical and behavioral research enterprise of the nation and/ or populations disproportionately affected by health disparities (targeted groups).31
  • National Institutes of Health, MARC Undergraduate Student training in Academic Research (U*STAR): MARC U-STAR awards provide support for undergraduate students who are underrepresented in the biomedical and behavioral sciences to improve their preparation for high-caliber graduate training at the PhD level. The program also supports efforts to strengthen the science course curricula, pedagogical skills of faculty, and biomedical research training at institutions with significant enrollments of students from underrepresented groups. Awards are made to colleges and universities that offer the baccalaureate degree. Trainees must be honors students majoring in the biomedical or behavioral sciences who have expressed interest in pursuing postgraduate education leading to the PhD, MD-PhD, or other professional degree combined with a PhD in these fields upon completing their baccalaureate degree.32


  • National Science Foundation, Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate: Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) further the graduate education of underrepresented STEM students through the doctorate level, preparing them for fulfilling opportunities and productive careers as STEM faculty and research professionals. AGEP also supports the transformation of institutional culture to attract and retain STEM doctoral students into the professorate.33
  • National Institutes of Health, Bridges to the Doctorate: The Bridges to the Doctorate Program provides support to institutions to help students make a critical transition in their development as scientists. The program is aimed at helping students make the transition from master’s degree programs to PhD programs. The program targets students from groups underrepresented in the biomedical and behavioral research enterprise of the nation and/or populations disproportionately affected by health disparities (targeted groups). The Bridges to the Doctorate Program promotes institutional partnerships between institutions granting a terminal master’s degree and institutions that grant PhD degrees in biomedical and behavioral sciences.34
  • Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Institutional Predoctoral Training Grants: These graduate programs represent highly diverse areas of basic science and have been judged by peer review to be among the best in the nation. Funds are provided to the institutions, which then administer the training programs. Students apply directly to these programs at the institution and are appointed by the training grant program directors. Trainees receive a base stipend (currently $21,180) that usually is further supplemented by the institution. In addition, each trainee receives an allowance for tuition and fees, health insurance, travel, and training-related expenses.
  • NIGMS Individual Predoctoral Kirschstein NRSA Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research: These awards, awarded to eligible individual students, support research training leading to the PhD or equivalent research degree, the combined MD-PhD degree, or another formally combined PhD degree. Students must be current matriculants in a biomedically related PhD (or equivalent) program, and strong applicants are those who have already identified their mentor/advisor. The fellowship enhances the diversity of the biomedical, behavioral, health services, and clinical research labor force in the United States by providing opportunities for academic institutions to identify and recruit students from diverse population groups to seek graduate degrees in health-related research. NIH is particularly interested in encouraging the recruitment and retention of the following candidates for this program:

    Individuals from racial and ethnic groups. Nationally, these include, but are not limited to, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and natives of the U.S. Pacific Islands.

    Individuals with disabilities, who are defined as those with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

A maximum of five years of support is available. NIGMS provides tuition, fees, and up to $4,200 per 12-month period to the predoctoral fellow’s sponsoring institution to help defray such trainee expenses as research supplies and equipment.35

In addition to these federal programs, foundations have provided important sources of fellowship support for underrepresented minorities in STEM. The Ford Foundation Fellowship Program36 has been an important source of support at the doctoral level, as has the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Minority PhD Program.37 Philanthropy has also been important at the undergraduate level, as has been seen in the Meyerhoff Scholars program, funded by Robert and Jane Meyerhoff and located at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.38

While independent evaluations have shown the effectiveness of federal programs such as the NSF Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and the NIH minority research training programs, to tackle the scale of change necessary in order to increase underrepresented minority participation in STEM, these and other programs like them must be scaled up to meet the national challenge and achieve the national goal of increasing participation in a transformative way.



B. C. Clewell et al. 2005. Evaluation of the National Science Foundation Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Program (Final Report). Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, November, p. 38.


William Bowen, Matthew C. Chingos, and Michael S. McPherson. Helping Students Finish the 4-Year Run. The Chronicle of Higher Education. September 8, 2009. Available at http://chronicle​.com​/article/Helping-Students-Finish-the​/48329.


College Board. 2009. Coming to Our Senses. New York, NY: College Board.


A. Coleman. 2002. “Diversity in Higher Education: A Continuing Agenda,” Rights at Risk: Equality in an Age of Terrorism, Report of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights. Washington, DC, p. 73.


Sarah Turner and John Bound. 2003. Closing the Gap or Widening the Divide: The Effects of the G.I. Bill and World War II on the Educational Outcome of Black Americans. Journal of Economic History. Available at http://en​​.php?title​=African_Americans_and_the_G​.I._Bill&printabl.


IHEP. 2006. Convergence: Trends Threatening to Narrow College Opportunity in America (2006). Institute for Higher Education Policy.




K. Field, Obama’s Pell Grant proposal would make 260,000 more students eligible, report says, Chronicle of Higher Education, News Blog, March 26, 2009.


A. Dowd and T. Coury, The effect of loans on the persistence and attainment of community college students [Electronic version], Research in Higher Education 47:33–62.


M. Ryu. 2008. Minorities in Higher Education. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.


College Board. Trends in Student Aid: 2008, Trends in Higher Education Series.


J. P. K. Gross, D. Hossler, and M. Ziskin. 2007. Institutional aid and student persistence: An analysis of the effects of institutional financial aid at public four-year institutions, NASFAA Journal of Student Financial Aid 37(1):28–39.


A. M. Gansemer-Topf and J. H. Schuh. 2005. Institutional grants: Investing in student retention and graduation. NASFAA Journal of Student Financial Aid 35(3):5–20.


College Board. 2008. Fulfilling the Commitment: Recommendations for Reforming Federal Student Aid in Brief. The report from the Rethinking Student Aid Group.


A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of Higher Education. A report of the Spellings Commission. Ibid. p. 19.


National Center for Education Statistics, Entry and Persistence of Women and Minorities in College Science and Engineering Education (NCES 2000-601). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2000.


National Research Council. 2005. Assessment of NIH Minority Research Training Programs; Phase 3. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, p. 8.


Oseguera et al. 2006.


Council of Graduate Schools. Ph.D. Completion and Attrition: Findings from Exit Surveys of Ph.D. Completers (Released September 2009). Washington, DC.


NAS, NAE, and IOM. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm, p. 9.


“Education Dept. Blamed for Not Doing Enough to Promote Grants.” Chronicle of Higher Education, August 4, 2008.


NSB, S&E Indicators 2010, Appendix Table 2-24.


Appropriations levels are for FY 2006 and found in Academic Competitiveness Council, Final Report (2007). Appropriations in the ARRA were $12.5 million for the new graduate fellowship program at DOE and were $15.0 for the new Science Master’s program at the National Science Foundation.


National Science Foundation. 2008. Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: Summary Report 2007-08, p. 16.


B. C. Clewell et al. 2006. Final Report of the Evaluation of the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Program, p. A-7.


http://www​ (accessed February 25, 2010).

Copyright © 2011, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK83366


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