Education programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) play an important role in preparing students for careers in STEM fields. Over the last decade, the federal government has taken important steps toward diversifying the pipeline of STEM talent in the United States, primarily by supporting STEM education opportunities for historically underrepresented groups in these fields. In 2016, the federal government spent $2.9 billion on 163 STEM education programs across all grade levels—from preschool to graduate school.
So, are these programs broadening access to STEM fields?
As schools let out across the country, today’s WatchBlog explores federal STEM education programs for underrepresented groups.
Participation rates in STEM education programs
The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 requires the federally-chartered Committee on STEM Education to provide information on the participation rates of underrepresented groups—including women, underrepresented minorities, and persons in rural areas—in federal STEM education programs.
The Committee on STEM Education is made up of multiple federal agencies that support STEM education programs. In its 2013 strategic plan, the Committee identified broadening the participation of underrepresented groups as one of its national goals.
However, we found the Committee didn’t report on the participation rates of underrepresented groups as required by law. As a result, there’s no way to know if participation by these groups has increased or not. Further, we don’t know which agencies or programs are succeeding in diversifying the pipeline and which are falling short. Likewise, we don’t know if progress is being made towards the Committee’s goal of broadening participation.
Availability of data
Committee leadership acknowledged that they haven’t reported these data and added that such participation data aren’t available across all STEM education programs. However, our survey of managers from all 163 federal STEM education programs indicated that participation data were generally available. Specifically, nearly three-quarters of STEM education programs reported tracking participants in fiscal year 2016. Of those programs, many also tracked specific participant characteristics. For example, 61 percent of programs tracked whether their participants were women and 54 percent documented those who were African American.
We recommended that the Committee take action to fulfill its requirement to report participation rates of underrepresented groups. We also noted the Committee should report on participation rates of women, underrepresented minorities, and persons from rural areas, and develop strategies to help agencies overcome some of the challenges they may face collecting the data.
The Committee noted it plans to examine factors that inhibit the reporting of participation data; gaining insight on the challenges agencies face is a first step.
To learn more, read our report.