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Undergraduate Research Participation and STEM Graduate Degree Aspirations among Students of Color

New Directions for Institutional Research Volume 148, ISSN 0271-0579


Increasing the number of students who complete advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is a compelling national interest. Although college science and engineering degree completion rates have improved considerably over the past few decades, significant gaps persist among women and students of color. Gaps between underrepresented racial minorities (URMs) and their White and Asian Americans counterparts widen at the graduate and professional education levels. Fewer than half of STEM majors go on to enter a STEM graduate program or a research or technical career. At the doctoral level, African Americans are virtually absent in some STEM subfields such as biological sciences, computer science, and astronomy. While science and engineering employment has grown nearly 40 percent over the last decade, STEM degree production has lagged behind, especially among URMs, who represent only 6 percent of the STEM workforce in general and 4.6 percent of those working in STEM fields with advanced degrees. Taken together, these trends suggest a serious labor market condition where the supply of scientifically skilled individuals, particularly URMs with graduate training, is inadequate to meet the growing demand of a knowledge-based economy. A declining cadre of workers appropriately skilled in scientific research threatens U.S. global competitiveness, potentially reduces national security, and almost ensures continued exportation of highly technical jobs to countries outside the United States. Thus, to sustain global and economic standing, there is a need to strengthen the American STEM pipeline by broadening participation among URMs, who represent a reservoir of untapped talent. The study described in this chapter is part of a larger research initiative that focuses on identifying and explaining factors that inhibit or enable students of color to navigate successfully through the STEM pipeline across critical junctures--that is, transition experiences from high school to college, college entry to graduation, and graduation to postgraduate life. While the larger study consists of both quantitative and qualitative research, this article is based on the statistical analyses of survey data. The purpose of the survey was to examine the relationship between engagement in educationally purposeful research activities and STEM graduate degree aspirations among racially/ethnically diverse students by conducting a series of descriptive and multivariate statistical analyses to estimate the net effect of undergraduate research experiences (UGREs) on URMs' graduate degree aspirations. The author summarizes three key findings and provides recommendations for future research


Strayhorn, T.L. (2010). Undergraduate Research Participation and STEM Graduate Degree Aspirations among Students of Color. New Directions for Institutional Research, 148, 85-93. Retrieved April 17, 2021 from .

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