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Forum Reveals 'Scary Data,' Fear of Math, Science

Dorothy Rowley | 4/17/2013, 9 p.m.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed the 2010 graduating class of Benjamin Banneker High School in Northwest, which since 1983 has registered a near 100 percent graduation and college acceptance rate./Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education

"It continues to be a supportability issue and it's no wonder that just eight percent of STEM students graduate because they come to the campus with these kinds of issues," Taylor said. "One STEM major left school in her second year with $28,000 in student loan debt – and now she's working in a fast food restaurant."

Fudge concurred, saying the CBC strongly supports STEM education.

"Research, technology and innovation have made America great, and we have to keep it up by making education an affordable process," Fudge said. "We need to increase the amount of Pell Grants. But [along the way,] we need to get students interested in STEM at the elementary level and not [wait until] the 10th grade."

Meanwhile, in order to parlay their STEM degrees into meaningful careers, graduates need a mechanism that leads from college straight to the workforce, and Lamont Haines, a program specialist for the United Negro College Fund in Fairfax, Va., believes government is a good launching pad.

"That pipeline to jobs really exists in the public sector,"said Haines. "However, there are barriers to getting STEM-oriented jobs but we can help graduates get there," he told the group. "In the Federal Register they're looking at a STEM clause to get more agencies to participate – especially [in the area of] government contractual agreements."

One way of assuring minority STEM graduates gain access to the workforce is by hiring them to work in local industries, rather than in companies outside of the United States. But even in those environments, their numbers pale in comparison to their non-minority counterparts, Edwards said.

"In my travels I haven't seen a lot of blacks, women and Latinos in STEM careers," said Edwards. "Around the country there are many robust communities of higher learning like HBCUs, capable of educating STEM students," she said.

"But in addition to making sure HBCUs have the resources for good research, there needs to be a certain amount of jobs for minority STEM graduates," said Edwards. "The state of Maryland is robust in aeroscience, but like other states in the country, we're not necessarily producing enough black graduates to go into that field. We need to focus on that, so there won't be as much of a mismatch in the STEM workforce."