The National Picture: Current Status of Minority Graduate Education in the United States
It is well-documented that very small numbers of underrepresented minority students receive Master's or doctoral degrees in science, mathematics, and engineering (SME). Moreover, the problem of inadequate underrepresented minority participation in SME graduate education has scarcely improved during the past decade. Both the small numbers of underrepresented minorities studying at the undergraduate level, and, especially, the even smaller number who actually apply to graduate school are serious problems. The following chart demonstrates the severity of the problem striking manner:

Attrition of Underrepresented Minorities Between Receipt of Baccalaureate Degree and Receipt of the Master's or Doctoral Degrees In Mathematics, Engineering, and the Sciences

% of Total Undergraduate
Degrees
7.0
6.0
0.6

% of Total
Doctoral
Degrees
2.9
3.0
0.4

Ethnicity
African American

Hispanic American Native American

Source: National Science Foundation, NSF 99-320

The percentage declines are even more worrisome when we find how small the pools are in the first place. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 1995 only 52 Native Americans received bachelors in all the physical sciences combined, only 98 B.S. degrees were awarded to Hispanics in mathematics, and only 169 African Americans received M.S. degrees in the Biological/Life Sciences.

At the doctoral level, the numbers are appallingly small. The National Research Council documents that in 1996 only 41 American Indians, 232 African Americans, and 295 Hispanics (compared to 10,316 Anglos and others), earned doctorates in the physical sciences, engineering, and biological sciences combined. In certain fields the minority presence is nearly non-existent. In computer science, only one Mexican American received a doctorate in 1996. A single Native American in the entire United States received a doctorate in mathematics that year. Similar vacuums exist in such fields as astronomy, physics, earth, atmospheric & ocean sciences, various subfields of chemistry or engineering, and others.

Leadership By The National Science Foundation
In order to help address this national shortage of underrepresented minorities receiving SEM doctoral degrees, in 1998 the National Science Foundation established the Minority Graduate Education (MGE) program within its Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate. The goal of the MGE is quite simply to increase significantly the number of students receiving doctoral degrees in the science (physical and life science disciplines), mathematics, and engineering, with special emphasis on population groups underrepresented in these fields. Because there exists a critical shortage of role models, the NSF is especially interested in increasing the number of minority professors in these fields. In order to achieve its ambitious overall goal, the MGE program seeks (1) to develop and implement innovative models for recruiting, mentoring, and retaining minority students in science and engineering doctoral programs; and (2) develop effective strategies for identifying and supporting underrepresented minorities who want to pursue academic careers.

In the first year of MGE (FY 1998) eight projects were established across the country. The institutions involved included Georgia Institute of Technology, Howard University, University of Michigan, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Florida, University of Missouri-Columbia, University of Puerto Rico, and Rice University. In FY 99, an additional eight project were established. Besides the MGE@MSA alliance, other institutions funded in 1999 include the University of Mississippi, University of California at Berkeley, State University of New York (SUNY) Stony Brook, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Howard University, and City University of New York CUNY). In 1999, the federal government approved appropriations to NSF's Education and Human Resources for $642.5 million with $7.5 million for continuation of a minority graduate education activity.

Minority Graduate Education at Mountain States Alliance (MGE@MSA)
The MGE@MSA builds upon our Western Alliance to Expand Student Opportunities (WAESO) which is an eight year alliance within NSF's Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented minority students obtaining baccalaureate degrees in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering. MGE@MSA establishes a number of new components and activities which, while drawing upon the extensive experience and manifest successes of the WAESO alliance at the undergraduate and transition to graduate school levels, are carefully designed to meet the challenge of retaining graduate students through the timely receipt of the doctoral degree and helping them engage in postdoctoral career paths, particularly as faculty members. The problems of faculty inexperience and the need for faculty information and training; the lack of mentors, role models or family/community experience with graduate school by underrepresented students; and the challenge of establishing a research program as expeditiously as possible are areas tackled by MGE@MSA through carefully designed activities.

Doctoral granting institutions participating in MGE@MSA are Arizona State University, Brigham Young University, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University, University of Arizona, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Nevada at Las Vegas, University of Nevada at Reno, University of New Mexico, University of Utah, and Utah State University.

As we have done with unparalleled success for over seven years in WAESO, each specific activity will be developed and refined through a unique peer review process modeled after the best aspects of the peer review system at NSF but customized to a smaller, regionally-focused scale. Scientists, specifically faculty members working with students, will be involved in every aspect of the project and will have primary control over the project and the allocation of funds, through their participation in the operational committees. Committees made up of faculty throughout our alliance will review, approve, request modifications, or disapprove each request for a specific activity at member institutions submitted by a faculty mentor. This mechanism has made our alliance successful at encouraging innovation and in replicating effective activity models at the undergraduate level throughout our region in part because committee members are rotated through our 3 cycle (Fall, Spring, Summer) per year activity process and participating faculty (including 223 experienced SEM research faculty from our alliance's participating comprehensive universities) obtain examples of successful activity models conducted throughout our alliance.

 

Numerical Goals of the MGE@MSA
The goals and objectives (anticipated outcomes) of the MGE@MSA project are as follows:

  • To increase by 100% over the five years of the project, total underrepresented SME graduate student enrollment. Our current baseline graduate student enrollment is 696. By the end of the fifth year we will double the graduate enrollment to 1,392.
  • To increase by 75% over the five years of the project, the total number of M.S. degrees earned by underrepresented SME minority students. Our current baseline annual minority graduate student M.S. production is 119. By the end of the fifth year we will increase that number by 75% to 208.
  • To increase by 300% over the five years of the project, the total number of underrepresented minority SME doctoral students who earn the Ph.D. Our current annual minority student SME Ph.D. production is 20. We will increase this to 60 by the end of the 5th year of this project.
  • To place 90% or more of our students who graduate with the Ph.D. with a job consistent with their research preparation, preferably as faculty members or researchers in labs or institutes.