African-American Participation Among Bachelors in the Physical Sciences and Engineering

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African-American Participation Among Bachelors in the Physical Sciences and Engineering

Results from the 2005 to 2015 Data of the National Center for Education Statistics
August 2019
Laura Merner and John Tyler

African-Americans remain underrepresented in the physical sciences and engineering fields. Using data collected on the ethnicity of all bachelor’s degree recipients from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) from 2005 to 2015, this report presents findings on bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans among 15 fields in the physical sciences and in engineering. While the total number of bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans grew faster than the total number of bachelor’s degrees earned by all US recipients, this rate of growth is not reflected in physical sciences and engineering overall.

African-Americans remain underrepresented in the physical sciences and engineering fields. This report examines trends in the number of bachelor’s degrees earned in the US between 2005 and 2015. While the total number of bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans grew faster than the total number of bachelor’s degrees earned by all recipients (Table 1), this rate of growth is not reflected in physical sciences and engineering overall (Table 2 and Table 3).

Using data collected on the ethnicity of all bachelor’s degree recipients from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) from 2005 to 2015, this report presents findings on bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans among 15 fields in the physical sciences and in engineering. It is important to note that, beginning in 2010, the NCES’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) survey began implementing a new methodology to collect race data. Here we report on continuous trends over this period.

 

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Table 1


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Participation in Physical Sciences: Exploring Bachelors in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry, and the Geosciences

Between 2005 and 2015, the number of bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans in physical science fields grew more slowly than the total number of these degrees earned by all students in the United States (Table 2). The number of degrees earned by African-Americans in four of the seven physical science disciplines grew faster than the overall total. However, slower growth in larger disciplines contributes to an overall slower growth rate in bachelor’s degrees for African-Americans in the physical sciences. The following analysis explores bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans in the US in seven fields within the physical sciences, as presented in Table 2.

 

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Table 2


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Overall, more physical science degrees were earned by African-Americans in each of the seven physical science categories in 2015 than in 2005. For African-Americans, the greatest increases were in earth sciences (165%) and atmospheric sciences (75%), which are relatively small fields. Chemistry, the largest of the physical science disciplines, saw a modest increase among African-Americans (31%).

Figures 1A–C display the number of degrees earned by African-Americans each year from 2005 to 2015 for seven physical science disciplines.

 

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Figure 1A


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Figure 1B


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Figure 1C


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The number of chemistry bachelor’s degrees earned across all groups in the US has increased steadily from 2005 to 2015, with an overall peak during the period in 2012. Over this 11-year period, African-Americans earned a total of 10,614 chemistry degrees (Figure 1A).

The number of physics bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans each year in the US has remained relatively stagnant since 2005. As seen in Figure 1B, the number of physics bachelor’s degrees peaked in 2014 and then fell to 2006 levels. Between 2005 and 2015 a total of 1,816 degrees were earned by African-Americans in physics, or approximately 165 degrees per year for African-Americans over the 11-year period (Figure 1B).

On average, African-Americans earned about six astronomy degrees each year between 2005 and 2015, for a total of 65 bachelor’s degrees. Oceanography displays a similar pattern, with an average of about five bachelor’s degrees earned each year by African-Americans. A total of 57 oceanography degrees over the 11-year period were earned by African-Americans. The number of African-American earned degrees in atmospheric science exhibits more variation across the years than astronomy and oceanography, with an average of 18 degrees earned each year (Figure 1C).

 

Participation in Engineering: An In-Depth Look at Engineering Fields

Between 2005 and 2015, the number of bachelor’s degrees in engineering earned by African-Americans in the US increased by 19%. However, this increase is less than half of the overall growth in the field of 44%. This is also about half the growth seen in African-American earned degrees in physical sciences (36%). The growth in African-American earned degrees in civil engineering and materials engineering exceeded the overall growth rate in these disciplines. The following analysis explores bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans in the US in the nine engineering fields presented in Table 3.

 

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Table 3


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The largest increase in number of bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans in an engineering field was in materials engineering (116%); in the overall population, this field exhibited the second largest proportional increase (83%). Civil engineering (69%) and aerospace engineering (55%) were the second and third fastest growing fields for the number of degrees earned by African-Americans in engineering fields.

At the other end of the spectrum, the degrees earned by African-Americans in electrical engineering and in industrial engineering decreased by 14% and 8%, respectively, between 2005 and 2015. Figures 2A–C depict data for the number of African-American earned bachelor’s degrees in an engineering field between 2005 and 2015.

 

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Figure 2A


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Figure 2B


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Figure 2C


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Bachelor’s Degrees Earned in Physical Sciences and Engineering per 1,000 Degrees: Comparisons of Overall Rates Among US Bachelor’s Degree Recipients with Rates for African-Americans

African-Americans earn fewer bachelor’s degrees in physical sciences and engineering per 1,000 degrees when compared with the total number of earned degrees. Table 4 displays the number of degrees earned in various physical science and engineering fields per 1,000 degrees overall in 2015. We show these rates for all bachelor’s degrees and for African-American earned degrees. The representation of African-Americans in these fields continues to lag behind that of the overall population in all fields except engineering technologies where African-Americans are earning degrees at a higher rate.

 

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Table 4


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African-American Men’s and Women’s Participation in Engineering and Physical Science Fields

African-American men earned more than double the number of bachelor’s degrees earned by women in physical science and engineering fields in 2015. The number of African-American women earning bachelor’s degrees in the physical science fields increased by 21% between 2005 and 2015; however, the number of African-American men earning these degrees grew almost three times faster (59%) in the same period. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of African-American men earning bachelor’s degrees in engineering fields grew by 31%, compared to an 8% decrease for African-American women (Table 5).

 

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Table 5


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Conclusion

The number of African-Americans earning bachelor’s degrees in the physical sciences and engineering has grown, with a total of over 7,000 African-Americans earning degrees in 2015, up from under 6,000 a decade before (Figure 3). Cumulatively, over 70,000 African-Americans earned degrees in the physical sciences or engineering between 2005 and 2015. Of all the fields examined in this report, engineering technologies is the only field in which African-Americans are earning bachelor’s degrees at a greater rate than all US bachelor’s degree recipients. Though there were increases in specific disciplines between 2005 and 2015, the current growth rate is not fast enough to change the overall underrepresentation of African-Americans in the physical sciences and engineering.

 

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Figure 3


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References

US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center of Education Statistics.

Survey Methodology

This focus on contains bachelor’s degree data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). IPEDS collects institution-level data from postsecondary institutions in the United States (50 states and the District of Columbia) and other US jurisdictions using a web-based survey. Subject areas are defined and categorized within IPEDS. The “Other Engineering” category in this report includes IPEDS codes for the following fields: Engineering, General, Pre-Engineering, Agricultural Engineering, Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering, Engineering Physics/Applied Physics, Engineering Science, Mining and Mineral Engineering, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, Nuclear Engineering, Ocean Engineering, Systems Engineering, Textile Sciences and Engineering, Forest Engineering, Geological/Geophysical Engineering, Mechatronics, Robotics, and Automation Engineering, Biochemical Engineering, Biological/Biosystems Engineering, Engineering, Other, and GIS systems. Other physical sciences include Physical Sciences, Materials Chemistry, Materials Sciences, Other, and Physical Sciences, Other. These data are made publicly available by IPEDS through a partnership with the National Science Foundation. Raw data can be accessed at nces.ed.gov. Staff members at the American Institute of Physics analyzed IPEDS data on bachelor’s degree attainment. Data were downloaded for this study in December of 2018. Percentage change calculations are based on degrees earned in 2005 and 2015. Disciplines were defined based on standardized detailed classifications settings determined using the WebCASPAR search function.

Note on the Discrepancy Between NCES and SRC Data

Beginning in 2010, the NCES’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) survey began implementing a new methodology to collect race data. Prior to 2011 the NCES data on the number of physics bachelor’s degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities each year tracked very closely with the data collected by the Statistical Research Center (SRC). The differences in data collection may result in differences in recent data trends. The SRC does not have immediate plans to modify the current race reporting system. For more information please contact Laura Merner at LMerner [at] AIP.org.

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African-American Participation Among Bachelors in Physical Sciences and Engineering

 

By Laura Merner and John Tyler

Published: August 2019

 

A product of the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics

1 Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740

 

 

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Image icon africanamer-bs-2015-tab1.png (115.06 KB)

Image icon africanamer-bs-2015-psfields-tab2.png (226.99 KB)

Image icon africanamer-bs-2015-chem-fig1a.png (113.46 KB)

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Image icon africanamer-bs-2015-astro-fig1c.png (170.94 KB)

Image icon africanamer-bs-2015-engin-tab3.png (262.71 KB)

Image icon africanamer-bs-2015-civilengin-fig2a.png (133.89 KB)

Image icon africanamer-bs-2015-chemengin-fig2b.png (160.02 KB)

Image icon africanamer-bs-2015-aerospace-fig2c.png (142.4 KB)

Image icon africanamer-bs-2015-psandengin-tab4.png (244.54 KB)

Image icon africanamer-bs-2015-menwomen-tab5.png (140.28 KB)

Image icon africanamer-bs-2015-psandengin-fig3.png (120.43 KB)