A Persistence Problem Among Blacks Who Choose to Study in the Sciences and Mathematics

A new report from the American Council on Education finds that equal percentages of black and white students enter college with plans to pursue study in science, mathematics, and engineering. But black students were significantly less likely than whites to earn their bachelor’s degree in these subjects.

The study is based on Department of Education data for more than 12,000 undergraduates who entered college in 1995. The data showed that 18.6 percent of black students entering college planned to study science, mathematics, or engineering when they matriculated. For whites, the figure was 18.0 percent.

The study found that three years later 55.7 percent of the black students who had planned to major in these disciplines were still enrolled in courses of study within these fields. This was just slightly below the level for whites, which stood at 57.1 percent.

But of those students remaining in science and mathematics fields after three years, only 62.5 percent of blacks went on to earn a diploma. In contrast, 87 percent of whites who had chosen to major in science and mathematics earned their degree.

The study concluded that those who completed their degree took a more rigorous curriculum in high school, were more likely to come from high-income families, were more likely to have a parent who had completed college, and were less likely to have held a job while in college.