Of the 25 most lucrative bachelor’s degree fields listed in this year’s edition of the report “The Economic Value of College Majors” released last week by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 17 have the word “engineering” in them. Among the remaining eight are physics, computer science, applied mathematics, statistics and decision science, and pharmacy. You can check out the list yourself on page 19 of the report.
As I posted on Tuesday, the Florida’s black students are severely underrepresented in those fields (at least in the State University System), and this underrepresentation is actually getting worse. That is, somehow Florida’s black students are increasingly being steered away from the most lucrative college majors. And this steering doesn’t start in college. As I reported several weeks ago, only 3-5% of the Florida students who pass the AP exams in math and science are black – so the underrepresentation of black students in the science and engineering pipeline has its origin in high school or even before.
In fact, one can look at NAEP math data to trace the science and math achievement gap between black students and other students in Florida back to 4th grade.
But what is clear is that the underrepresentation of Florida’s black students in science and engineering fields is not going to solve itself. It will require a concentration of effort on the problem, beginning well before these students go to college. We will need not just reading coaches in elementary schools, but also math and science coaches. We’ll need middle school math and science teachers who are good at math and science themselves (which is much less common than we’d like to think). And we’ll need strong high school teachers in calculus, chemistry and physics. We will need these teachers in schools with high concentrations of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, where the temptation for administrators is to focus exclusively on reading and writing skills and to neglect upper level math and science courses that are not necessary to meet the minimum graduation requirements.
For now, our state’s leaders have decided that the present situation is good enough. To prompt change, somebody with a personal stake in the state’s African-American students will have to step up and say that it’s not alright that these students aren’t being prepared for the leadership roles in this century’s technological society.