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FYI Number 60: May 10, 2004

BEST Report on Promoting Diversity in Higher Education

As reported in FYI #59, several reports have been issued this year by BEST (Building Engineering and Science Talent), an organization seeking to promote diversity in science and engineering academia and industry. BEST recently released reports on "what is working" to improve diversity in pre-K-12 education and in the workplace. In February, the group released its report on higher education, entitled "A Bridge for All: Higher Education Design Principles to Broaden Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics."

"Until now," the report says, "the nation has drawn upon an ever-narrowing segment of its population to meet most of its needs for technical talent. But looking ahead, the national interest now calls for a far more robust effort to recruit and train our ‘best and brightest' that reflects the new demographic realities of the American school and workforce populations.... The single most important, test, then, for American higher education over the next decade will be to supply world-class talent in science, engineering and technology by developing an emerging domestic talent pool that looks different from decades past."

The report makes suggestions for federal and state governments, but its particular focus is on higher education institutions. "Research universities carry a particular burden of leadership," it states, "because, with good reason, they are viewed as the crown jewels of American graduate education.... They must be at the center of any national effort to build a stronger, more diverse technical workforce along with minority-serving institutions, women's colleges and community colleges."

For the report, a blue ribbon panel examined best practices for broadening diversity in higher education. The panel reviewed124 programs and identified seven as "exemplary" and five as "promising." From these programs, the panel "distilled eight design principles" for effective diversity programs: institutional leadership and a commitment to inclusiveness; investing in targeted recruitment and a K-12 feeder system; encouraging and rewarding faculty involvement; providing personal attention to the needs of each student; providing opportunities for student peer interaction and support; providing outside-the-classroom research experience and internship opportunities; developing relationships and networks that will help students in their careers; and continuous program monitoring, evaluation, and adjustment. As a ninth principle, the panel recommends a combination of merit and needs-based financial assistance for low-income students. The panel cautions that these principles should be applied as a single package, not an "a la carte menu."

Finally, the panel lays out broad "recommendations for change" for several sectors. Agencies of the federal government, it says, should "adopt and enforce criteria taking diversity into account in awarding education and research grants" to higher education institutions. States should "focus on complementing federal programs...that provide access and opportunity through needs-based financial aid," and play a leading role in "documenting student progress through the collection and use of disaggregated data." College presidents, deans, and department chairs should promote "what works in higher education to nurture the talents of women, underrepresented minorities and students with disabilities," and all stakeholders should "concentrate resources on proven enrichment opportunities," support cutting-edge research, and rigorously evaluate outcomes.

All the BEST reports are available at http://www.bestworkforce.org/ under "Publications."

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3094

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