During the 23rd Annual National Capitol Forum on Hispanic Higher Education, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) gathered educators and leaders from Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) to work through issues effecting Latinx undergraduate students. Issues ranging from the current state of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to the Latino representation in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic (STEM) field were brought to the table in hopes to advance HACU’s legislative agenda.
President and chief executive officer of HACU, Dr. Antonio R. Flores, opened the forum stating HSIs “need and deserve” more support from members of Congress nation-wide. Dr. Flores also praised the federal omnibus spending bill that approved a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant supporting undergraduate STEM education at Hispanic Serving Institutions. HACU has a longstanding goal to promote preparation for Hispanic workers to compete in the new wave of advanced technology.
Vice President Dane Linn of Business Roundtable, a national association of CEOs of leading companies, stated workforce leaders in the STEM field should partner with HSIs to collaborate and create a pipeline of students to eventually join the STEM industry. This means co-developing curriculum and creating work-based learning experiences that teaches students the technical and soft skills that are needed in the STEM field.
LATINX STUDENTS IN STEM
The push for HSIs to support their students majoring in the STEM field is especially important due to the 2010 data found by Higher Education Research Institute. It states that although Latinx undergraduates are just as likely as white students to major in STEM subjects in college, they are significantly less likely to earn a degree or certificate in a STEM field. Just 16 percent of Latinx students who began college in 2004 as STEM majors completed a STEM degree by 2009, compared to 25 percent of White students, the institute’s study found.
Dr. Flores’ statement was timely as HSIs are finding ways to better support their students and gain wins for their undergraduate community. For example, the aforementioned $30-million grant for National Science Foundation Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: HSI Program aims to increase Latino representation in STEM. The grant will be awarded to institutions in different tracks that align to the goal of increasing the retention and graduation rates of students pursing associate and baccalaureate degrees in STEM.
PATHWAYS TO STEM
Another program that supports Latinx in STEM majors was granted by the U.S. Department of Education. The DOE awarded the HSI California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo (CSUCI) a grant of more than $6 million to implement Project PROMESAS, Pathways with Regional Outreach and Mathematics Excellence for Student Achievement in STEM. The program aims to keep Latinx STEM majors from dropping out of school by creating STEM pathways from high school to college where high school math classes complement math courses offered at two- and four–year colleges.
THE WORK IS NOT DONE
While these two programs are clear wins for our Latinx students in STEM majors, more needs to be done. As HACU’s president, Dr. Flores mentioned, our students need and deserve more support from members of Congress.
- HSIs and other advocacy groups should continue to ask Congress for programs and resources to further support HSI’s in their venture to assist Latinx students majoring in the STEM field
- Congress, HSIs and other advocacy groups should continue to be innovative and find creative ways to better tackle the many issues that keep Latinx undergraduates from attaining their degree;e. STEM pipeline programs, create grants for HSIs, focus groups to assist with creating rigorous proposals etc.
- Continue to have courageous conversations, as HACU has done in their forum, to further support the Latinx community pursuing their degree.
By Kathrine Ávila, LEE Fellow, Education Policy Project