Underrepresented minorities in STEM fields in Florida: Much work to do, but is it a priority for anyone?

We hear so much about the baseline achievements in education – mastering Common Core-level basic skills in K-12 and increasing the attainment of college degrees of any kind, whether they lead to economically viable careers or not.  There is much less discussion about what it would take to give all students with the requisite ability the opportunity to reach for leadership roles in our technological society.

The graphs below show what you get when you don’t pay sufficient attention to giving students from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to achieve at the highest level.  The top graph shows that while the underrepresentation of African-American students among bachelor’s degree graduates in Florida’s State University System is severe, it is much worse in engineering and physics, the fields from which a disproportionately large share of society’s leaders emerge (and will continue to emerge).  The numbers shown are from 2012-2013.  It’s worth keeping in mind that 22.9% of Florida’s K-12 students were African-American in 2013-2014.

AfricanAmerican_with_bioThe underrepresentation of African-Americans in engineering and physics will not be solved by the Common Core.  Instead, the communities of K-12 educators, engineers and physicists will have to decide to address this through extensive work to recruit African-American students into these fields in middle school and even elementary school.  In the case of engineers and physicists this work will almost certainly be done on a volunteer basis, unrewarded by industry or universities.

The underrepresentation of Hispanics among SUS bachelor’s degree earners is somewhat less severe (30.0% of Florida’s K-12 students in 2013-2014 were Hispanic), but any degree of underrepresentation should be addressed.


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