Recalculating Latino college STEM success

January 5, 2010

By hammersmith

Recalculating Latino college STEM success

Inside Higher Education, January 5, 2010

How do you know if a college is doing well by its Latino students interested in careers in science and technology? One might look at the institutions that have the most Latino students majoring in those fields, or that graduate the most students with degrees in those fields.

But a new report from the University of Southern California’s Center for Urban Education proposes another set of metrics that institutional and other leaders can use to measure their own success — or lack of it — in getting students from Latino backgrounds interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM) disciplines and, ultimately, to degrees.

But like most of the USC center’s own work, the newly released study — part of a three-year project financed by the National Science Foundation — views the issue through he prism of an “equity” framework, which it defines as “creating opportunities for equal access and success among historically underrepresented student populations, such as racial and ethnic minority and low-income students.”

In other words, says Alicia C. Dowd, the center’s co-director and a co-author of the report, the study aims both to recognize the central role that Latinos (given their growing share of the U.S. population) will have to play if the country is to achieve the college completion goals set out by President Obama, and to focus on how well colleges and universities are educating Latinos compared to other students. The researchers’ goal, says Dowd, was to identify 25 colleges that could be “potential exemplars” of good practices — because not only do they have significant proportions of Latino students, but they “graduate more Latinos in STEM fields than might be expected.”

To come up with their list, the researchers began by examining the more than 200 colleges and universities deemed to be “Hispanic serving” because at least 25 percent of their students are Latino. The study examines Hispanic-serving institutions specifically, Dowd says, to try to look beyond the mere fact that they enroll significant proportions of Latino students and “take the lid off” to see which institutions are not just enrolling such students, but actually serving them.

The researchers then focused on six states with large Latino populations (Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico, New York and Texas) and on four-year Hispanic-serving institutions in those states, to try to zero in on bachelor’s degree production.

From there, the USC scholars applied to the list of institutions a formula that accounted for such factors as their proportion of Hispanic enrollment, proportional enrollment in STEM fields, and selectivity, in order to develop a list of 25 colleges that had produced more Latino STEM graduates than would have been predicted based on their enrollments, selectivity and other criteria.

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