June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
June 19, 2019
Minorities in Engineering
While students of color are broadly underrepresented in higher education, the issue is particularly acute in undergraduate engineering programs, where historically underrepresented students (URM, def: non-white, non-Asian) compose approximately 12-16% of the student body (1). Lack of diversity limits the talent base and creative capital of the entire engineering profession (2). For this reason, institutions have been investing in minority engineering programs (MEPs) within their undergraduate engineering colleges (3,4). MEPs serve as umbrella organizations that offer financial, academic, and social support, with overarching objectives of improving representation and retention of URM undergraduate students in engineering programs (3-7). While MEPs are networked through professional organizations, such as the National Association of Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates (NAMEPA), student organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and funding efforts like the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP), MEPs operate independently of each other across institutions, with each having its own origins, unique programmatic offerings, and financial and administrative support structures.
Although programmatic elements and administrative infrastructure may vary by institution, there is no question that MEPs in general are effective in URM student retention and success (4-13). A recent whitepaper produced by NSBE (4) studied four top-ranked MEP programs and recommended nine interventions for institutions to boost minority enrollment and retention. Six of the nine interventions traditionally fall in the purview of MEPs, namely, summer bridge programs, living-learning communities, facilitated study groups, scholarships, and positive development of self-efficacy and engineering identity. The success of these interventions in boosting minority enrollment and retention in engineering programs of study has been proven repeatedly in the literature (5, 10-13), with particularly strong evidence to support summer bridge programs (12) and intensive mentoring and academic supports (5, 10-14).
Beyond the model institutions participating in the NSBE study, it is unknown how many of the MEPs operating nationally offer these recommended interventions nor how many could potentially offer these interventions given current financial and administrative supports. The goal of this study is thus to broadly characterize the programmatic offerings and resourcing for MEPs nationwide and to determine whether MEP characteristics are correlated with URM representation in the undergraduate student body. We hypothesize that better resourced MEPs will have a greater number of programmatic offerings and a higher representation of URMs in their undergraduate population. Regardless of study outcome, our findings could lead to guidelines for effective resourcing and programming offerings for MEP programs nationally.
This study employed a triangulated data collection method that merged data from a web-based search of publicly available information on MEP websites, a voluntary survey of MEP administrators, and interviews with MEP administrators. Web-based data formed the core data set, with the survey and interviews serving to triangulate findings. Surveys and interviews were conducted in partnership with NAMEPA, a preeminent professional organization for MEP administrators with a membership of approximately 60 institutions. A single, validated instrument was used for all data collection arms, and this instrument was derived from two prior whitepaper surveys of MEPs conducted by professional organizations (NAMEPA and ASEE). Inclusion criteria for the web-based search included: (1) ABET-accredited engineering program; (2) sufficiently large graduating class size (>25th percentile nationally); (3) moderate to high academic caliber (top 100 USNWR for doctoral-granting, top 50 for non-doctoral); and (4) neither historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) nor a Hispanic serving institutions (HSI). Web-based data were cross-checked for a subset of institutions (ca. 20) using interview and survey methods with a common instrument. Agreement among web-based and interview/survey methods were modest, ranging from 30-70% across all measures. Web-based data collection underestimated programmatic offerings compared to interviews/surveys but accurately assessing resourcing levels; and we attribute this discrepancy to informal and pilot programs not being well advertised on MEP websites.
Our results showed that MEP resourcing, as quantified by the number of full-time staff, is moderately correlated with institutional size (no. graduates; r(100)=0.40, p=0.11) but not with URM representation at a given institution. The same is true for the number of MEP programmatic offerings, e.g., scholarships, mentoring, (r(100)=0.47, p=0.05 for correlation with institutional size). MEPs most commonly offered academic support (36%), summer bridge programs (32%), and scholarships (31%), and least commonly offered living learning communities (9%) and dedicated study workspaces (15%). Only 52% of all MEPs offer at least half of the recommended interventions, with merely two programs offering all recommended interventions. These results may be an underestimate of true programmatic offerings due to limitations in web-based searches; however, even when accounting for underestimation of individual MEP level, the recommended interventions are not offered widely nor consistently.
Taken together, these results suggest that MEP resourcing and programmatic offerings vary widely across institutions, and resourcing levels are most strongly predicted by size of the institution rather than current demographics of the student body. Furthermore, this study provides strong evidence that few MEPs nationally are offering the recommended interventions (4) to support underrepresented students within their programs, which may be due to insufficient resourcing. Future efforts should be directed towards institution and national-level advocacy for an infusion of resources into MEPs and guidance for these organizations to offer the recently recommended student interventions.
Buckley, J., & Miranda, M., & Trauth, A., & Johnson, M. T., & Vaughan, M. L., & Zephirin, T., & Dickerson, D., & Davidson, R. A. (2019, June), The MEP Census: Characterizing Essential Programmatic and Intrastructural Elements of Minority Engineering Programs (MEP) Nationwide Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. https://peer.asee.org/33406
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