Minority interest and persistence in the hard sciences is highly relevant to a fully integrated society, but racial preferences used at the undergraduate level plausibly cause mismatch effects. Because of the rigid structure and competitive nature of engineering and physical science programs, students that intend to major in science could find themselves at a disadvantage if they enrolled at a school where their incoming credentials are weak relative to the rest of their class, and might drift to other majors or out of school altogether. If so, disproportionate numbers of minorities will get bumped off the science track.
Project SEAPHE has conducted preliminary research on the effects of mismatch on persistence using data from the University of California, the University of Michigan, and a number of other sources. Prof. Richard Sander is presenting these findings at a September 12th hearing of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Prior research on the subject of minority representation in the sciences has found that there is no disparity between underrepresented minorities and whites in terms of initial intention to major in the hard sciences at the point they apply for college.
Interest in Science Among High School Seniors
|Comparison group||Proportion of students of each race intending to major in science|
|University of California – average||34.7%||37.5%||52.6%|
|University of California – 2004-06||37.3%||40.5%||57.1%|
|HERI-CIRP data (Astin et al.)||27.3%||34.2%||35.7%||52.6%|
|Rogers Elliott data (4 elite institutions)||41.4%||44.2%||44.0%||55.0%|
However, minority representation in the hard sciences dwindles at every stage after college enrollment. Black and Latino attrition from science during college is much greater than that of whites and Asians, and the gap only widens when looking at continuation to graduate school, and research and teaching.
The literature below provides some background on the subject.