Race and Gender Largely Determine Who Gets S.T.E.M. Degrees

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) degree attainment is increasingly seen as necessary for competing in a 21st century global economy. Jobs of the future will largely fall into these categories. Yet there is a large gulf in achievement between women and men and an even larger gulf between racial groups in obtaining them. Disparities of this kind will have large-scale implications for inequality in the days ahead.

S.T.E.M. degree attainment begins with strong foundations in Math and Science. Yet NYC’s Equality Indicators find that more than three quarters of black students in grades 3-8 (80.9%) were not proficient on the math Common Core test, compared to less than a third of Asians (32.6%). Three quarters of Hispanics (76.3%) were not proficient, while fewer than half of whites (43.3%) did not achieve proficiency.

The disparities grow with each subsequent phase in education. In Advaced Regents diplomas, more than half of Asians (57.0%) received an Advanced diploma compared to 11.8% of blacks. The percentage among whites (39.6%) fell between the two, while the percentage among Hispanics (15.7%) was closer to that of blacks.

In S.T.E.M. degree attainment, the study found that men were much more likely to get science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (S.T.E.M.) degrees than women: 18.9% of male City University of New York (CUNY) graduates received their degrees in STEM fields compared to only 7.4% of female graduates. Of those getting STEM degrees, women were the most likely to get their degrees in science disciplines (59.9%) followed distantly by technology (19.2%), while men were most likely to get them in technology (47.4%) followed by science (27.0%). Within racial and ethnic groups, Asians were by far the most likely to get their degrees in S.T.E.M. fields (18.1%), followed by blacks (11.9%), whites (10.3%) and Hispanics (8.6%).

To mitigate this troubling situation, groups like the National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE) have launched new a campaign to increase the number of black engineering graduates to 10,000 annually by 2025. The initiative is part of a growing movement to increase the number of people of color in the science, technology, engineering, and math (S.T.E.M.) fields.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) is also attempting to build a pipeline for girls to S.T.E.M. degree achievement with a multi-pronged approach involving classroom-based initiatives, legislative advocacy, and building support systems for women to help them achieve these degrees.

For people of color and women to effectively compete in the new global economy, the status quo of disparity in S.T.E.M. degree attainment by race and gender cannot be tolerated.