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Latino Daily News

Monday January 3, 2011

More Latinos in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math Fields Wanted

A recent report has pointed out that while the need for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) college students has risen, the number of Latino students in the fields are far lower than the national average, and that number will only worsen unless more pre-college age Latinos take an early interest in STEM education/careers.

The report, coauthored by a University of California-Riverside (UCR) researcher, points out that while Latinos are underrepresented in all of higher education, it is especially true in STEM majors.

It is also pointed out that federally funded programs aimed at assisting Latinos in STEM fields are helpful in graduating more Latinos in the concentrations. The research explains that Latino students are more likely to come from low-income families, attend schools with higher drop-out rates, and have at least one parent who did not attend college.

Jim Lightbourne, the director of the division of graduate education at the National Science Foundation, says that increasing the number of Latino STEM graduates is beneficial to all Americans, as STEM graduates fill jobs vital to the country’s national security and economic development.

Unfortunately, the main reason for the lack of Latino representation in graduating classes in higher education is the burden of cost. The report says that around 60 percent of Latinos who graduated from college worked an average of 30 hours a week. With work hours like that, the likelihood that others with similar schedules will drop-out is high. This is why help from federal programs is often necessary.

Nationally, STEM students often have one or both parents working in science-related jobs, which makes it more likely that the children will follow that same path, but with Latinos not common in these occupations, that guide and aspiration to “follow in their footsteps” is not there. So, programs targeted at stimulating STEM career interest in Latino students’  is tremendously important.

With about 25 percent of its student body being Latino, UCR is a leading recipient of Latino-targeted federal grants.

Approaching community colleges with questions regarding the cost of higher education is vital, since Latinos are more likely than any other ethnic or racial group to begin higher education at a community college.

Establishing further partnerships between major research universities or private industry and Cal State is also important, because most Latino STEM students in California attend a Cal State campus.

Lindsey Malcom, an assistant professor of education at UCR, and coauthor of the report say that in states like California, “scientists, mathematicians and engineers are going to have to be students of color.”

“If you just look at the demographics, at the make-up of college-aged and high school students,” said Malcom. “There’s no way you can get around that.”