Advancing Underrepresented Minorities In STEM Education and Careers

Workers in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—play a critically important role in driving economic growth, and STEM employment represents a significant pathway to family-supporting incomes and financial stability. Yet far too few individuals from underrepresented groups— in particular, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans—are among the ranks of STEM workers.

To date, the focus on STEM employment has emphasized jobs that require a Bachelor’s degree or higher—and federal policy and investment have reinforced that focus. New research, however, has helped adjust the national understanding of STEM and the opportunities it presents.1 New employment and skill data have drawn attention to the large number of STEM jobs that require less than a Bachelor’s degree. The data have also highlighted the critical importance of community colleges as a primary provider of college access for large numbers of underrepresented minorities in this country. The result is a growing national recognition that, with new approaches and support for reform, community colleges can be a launching pad for many more individuals to highpaying, quality careers in STEM fields, particularly for underrepresented minorities.

The federal government can play an important role in helping community colleges and their partners provide more transparent, productive, and cost-effective routes to STEM employment. This paper characterizes the opportunities for underrepresented minorities in STEM fields and existing barriers to successful community college pathways. It concludes with recommendations for federal policymakers for improving preparation for the sub-Bachelor’s degree STEM labor market.

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