Computing Applications Broadening participation

The Role of Hispanic-Serving Institutions in Contributing to an Educated Work Force

Improving inclusiveness in computing education.
  1. Introduction
  2. The Role of Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  3. A Call to Action
  4. References
  5. Author
  6. Footnotes
  7. Figures
  8. Tables
Whittier College valedictory speaker
A Whittier College valedictory speaker during a Latino pre-graduation celebration.

In order to thrive and even survive in the worldwide market-place of ideas and innovation, the U.S. must aggressively meet the challenge of increasing the number of students who complete degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It is critical for the economic and social health of the U.S. that a globally competitive STEM work force is maintained and the engagement of diverse individuals who can contribute to innovations and advancements in STEM areas is expanded. Although there has been an upturn in the past two years, computing fields have certainly experienced a significant decrease in the number of majors and graduates. Engaging large segments of society that have traditionally not been involved—students from underrepresented groups—is critical in addressing work force needs and innovation, especially in computing. One group in particular that is prime for greater inclusion in computing is Hispanics. Hispanics have the fastest growth rate among all groups in the U.S. (one in four newborns is Hispanic according to the Pew Foundation5), yet this group remains significantly underrepresented in STEM careers and in the number of graduates who obtain advanced degrees. Approximately 6.8% of the total bachelor’s degrees awarded to citizens and permanent residents in 2000–2008 and 2.5% of the total doctoral degrees awarded in 1998–2007 in computer sciences went to Hispanics according to the 2009 NSF Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering report.3 Adding to this is the fact that fewer younger adults are obtaining college degrees; the U.S. ranks only 10th in the percentage of the young adult population with college degrees according to the Lumina Foundation.

While it is imperative that we recruit and prepare a larger number of our youth for success in higher education, placing a focus on Hispanics is essential for closing the degree attainment gap particularly in STEM fields. While the numbers of Hispanics who continue on to baccalaureate programs and advanced studies are low, a number of social, educational, and environmental factors continue to inhibit Hispanics from degree attainment. Recent survey data shows that Hispanic parents place high value on going to college; however, a large number of their children tend to drop out of school. This paradox may be due in large measure to poor socioeconomic conditions, the challenge of mastering the English language with little support, and the lack of role models. To make a difference, it is essential to have more Hispanic faculty in computing programs who can serve as exemplars and models at the community college and four-year institutions, to provide opportunities for development and growth, and to inform families about financial support structures for attending college.

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The Role of Hispanic-Serving Institutions

With these issues in mind, we cannot ignore the role of Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) in educating Hispanics who become future leaders in the work force. Indeed, any effort to increase the number of Hispanics who attain STEM degrees will depend on the institutional capacity of community colleges and HSIs to educate and graduate Hispanics, in particular those who graduate in STEM fields. This claim is supported by a March 2010 report by Dowd et al.2 from the Center for Urban Education that indicates a greater share of Hispanic students enrolled at HSIs earn degrees in key majors, such as computer science, mathematics, and engineering, than do their counterparts at non-HSIs.a

The report also states that Hispanic community college transfers who first earn associate’s degrees have lower access to STEM bachelor’s degrees at academically selective and private universities than their counterparts who do not earn an associate’s degree prior to the bachelor’s. Dowd’s data shows that Hispanics, who are community college transfers and who first earn associate’s degrees, have lower access to STEM bachelor’s degrees at academically selective and private universities than their counterparts who do not earn an associate’s degree prior to the bachelor’s. On the other hand, transfer students were more likely to graduate from HSIs and from public four-year institutions, but they were less likely to graduate from academically selective institutions or from research universities. To make a difference, it is essential to support programs and initiatives that provide educational opportunities for Hispanics in STEM fields at HSIs and that target community college students and their successful transfer to four-year colleges.

The NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program has been a critical factor in providing students with research opportunities that motivate and prepare them for graduate studies. An SRI International evaluation of NSF support for undergraduate research opportunities found that students who participated in undergraduate research were twice as likely as those who did not do research to have pre-college expectations of obtaining a Ph.D.6 In addition, participation in undergraduate research had strong positive effects on the students’ understanding of the research process, confidence in their research-related abilities, and awareness of academic and career options in STEM. In regard to improving research opportunities, a common suggestion that arose from the study was the need for more effective faculty guidance and the key role of developing interpersonal, organizational, and research skills.

The Computing Alliance of HSIs, a consortium of 10 HSIs focused on the recruitment, retention, and advancement of Hispanics in Computing, has played an important role in involving students, in particular Hispanics, in research throughout the academic year using the Affinity Research Group (ARG) model and working with the students to apply for REU opportunities. ARG is focused on training faculty mentors on the ARG philosophy and how to structure in research groups the deliberate and intentional development of technical, team, and professional skills and knowledge required for research and collaborative work.

Arguments against having doctoral programs at minority-serving institutions (MSIs), such as those made by Richard Tapia in the March 2010 Communications Broadening Participation column,7 often center on the low probability of individuals who do not graduate from top research institutions becoming a faculty members at those institutions and the supposed “lack of rigor” of MSI graduate programs, which make them less able to compete with the caliber of programs at top research institutions. Data reported in NSF 06-318 certainly supports the former argument,1 although fewer than half of Hispanic faculty members who earned doctorates at top research institutions were employed at these institutions. The reasons are varied as are the reasons for graduates of top research institutions who choose to teach at MSIs. One cannot assume that if individuals did not attend a top research institution, it is because they were not accepted, or that if graduates of top research institutions are not faculty members at a similar university, it is because they could not find a position. It may simply be nothing more than a conscious choice.

The second argument regarding “lack of rigor” at MSIs may reflect lack of awareness of the major transformation of a number of these universities in the past decade. As shown in the accompanying table, there are a number of HSIs that rank in the upper quarter of the rankings for FY 2008 R&D expenditures for all universities and colleges without a medical school. If we included MSIs, then four more institutions would be added to the table. The growth in research at HSIs can be seen when comparing the R&D expenditures for the institutions listed in the table over the last eight years. The total R&D expenditures for these institutions have risen steadily from $170,245,000 in 2001 to $258,773,000 in 2005, and to $330,089,000 in 2008.

We cannot continue to think in terms of the traditional models of education that have thrived on selectivity.

There are a number of HSIs that are moving toward becoming national research universities through rigorous recruitment of excellent research faculty and establishment of strong collaborations with faculty and programs at top research institutions. The doctoral programs at many HSIs are built on the firm belief that broadening participation requires identifying students who have the capability to complete advanced studies, but who may lack the confidence to pursue such studies, and engaging such students in initiatives that prepare them to succeed in competitive research programs. It is imperative that we not equate skills development with the inhibition of a student’s progress.

I would certainly agree that it is important to increase the number of Hispanic students who enter graduate studies at top research institutions, and faculty mentors should certainly encourage students to enter such programs; however, this effort will not make a large difference in the numbers. We cannot meet the challenge of increasing degree attainment from quality programs unless we continue to invest in research programs at MSIs and extend the number of universities and colleges that offer quality graduate education to a broader student population. We must ensure that students attending MSI programs have experiences that enhance their education, for example, by students spending a semester or summer at a top research institution, center, or laboratory; by MSI researchers establishing strong ties with top researchers at other institutions; and by students building effective networks and mentoring relationships.

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A Call to Action

Broadening participation is often discussed in terms of recruitment, retention, and advancement in academic programs. It also applies to broadening participation to those who serve in leadership roles such as members of national committees, policy debriefing committees, and advisory boards. While pedigree may be one measure to evaluate one’s qualifications, there are other measures. Indeed, one’s perspective, experiences, and accomplishments should serve as other important measures.

It is imperative that we work together to increase the percentage of U.S. residents, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or economic standing, who attain high-quality baccalaureate and advanced degrees. Democratization of higher education is essential to educate a broader base of citizens who are educated at a higher level. Toward this end, it is critical to support the efforts of HSIs and other MSIs to become national research universities. Work with the alliances, such as CAHSI and others that have formed under the CISE NSF Broadening Participation program, to build strong ties with MSI researchers and, as a result, their students.

Efforts such as these raise the quality of the university and graduates. It is through MSIs that we can effect change and meet the challenge of increased graduates in STEM. The counterargument to this position is that we need to encourage our “best” Hispanic students to attend the top universities in the country so that they have the credentials to assume leadership roles. It is irrefutable that students should study with the best minds in the country and establish the critical networks that are important for one’s success. This does not mean, however, that some of the best minds cannot be found at MSIs and that there cannot be strong ties among researchers at different levels of research institutions that enhance the faculty’s and students’ research experiences. We cannot continue to think in terms of the traditional models of education that have thrived on selectivity. Now is the time to expand our thinking and to establish creative models for raising the quality of graduate education and providing accessibility to a larger group of people. Quite simply—and critically—the future of the U.S. depends on it.

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UF1 Figure. A Whittier College valedictory speaker during a Latino pre-graduation celebration.

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UT1 Table. FY2008 R&D Expenditures for Hispanic-serving institutions without a medical school.

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    1. Burrelli, J. Academic institutions of minority faculty with S&E doctorates. InfoBrief: Science Resources Statistics, NSF06-318 (June 2006).

    2. Dowd, A. C., Malcom, L. E., and Macias, E. E. Improving Transfer Access to STEM Bachelor's Degrees at Hispanic-serving Institutions through the America COMPETES Act. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, 2010.

    3. National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2009, NSF 09-305 Arlington, VA (Jan. 2009); http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/.

    4. National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics. Academic Research and Development Expenditures: Fiscal Year 2008. Detailed Statistical Tables NSF 10-311. Arlington, VA (2010); http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf10311/.

    5. Pew Research Center. Between Two Worlds, How Young Latinos Come of Age in America. Pew Hispanic Center, Washington, D.C., 2009.

    6. Russell, S. Evaluation of NSF Support for Undergraduate Research Opportunities: Synthesis Report. SRI Project P16346 (July 2006).

    7. Tapia, R. Hiring and developing minority faculty at research universities. Commun. ACM 53, 3 (Mar. 2010).

    a. National Center for Education Statistics study (NCES 2007-161) reports that only 10% of four-year institutions of higher education in the U.S. enroll the majority of Hispanic undergraduates.

    DOI: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1859204.1859217

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