The Diploma to College to Career Mismatch

Written By:  Reagan Flowers, PhD

It appears that minority students are less likely to enroll in college, remain in college, and are more likely to go directly to work post high school.  Factors impacting their choices to attend college are finances, access to opportunities, awareness, proper preparation, supportive networks, and exposure.  And for many minorities enrolled in college, they are first generation.

According to NCES, minority students are obtaining their high-school diplomas with completion rates in the U.S. for Hispanic’s being 76.3% and 72.5% for Black students. However, nationally these percentages are not representative of the number of minority students enrolling in colleges, 17% Hispanic and 14% Black.

The mismatch in the numbers does cause one to wonder how this has come to be.  I wonder if today’s high school graduates have determined that they will yield less of a return on their investment in a college degree if it is not in a STEM field.  Additionally, I wonder if high school graduates see more of an income advantage in forgoing a college degree and going directly to work in a blue-collar STEM field.  Looking further into gender numbers, there are more females enrolling in college than males.  The low enrollment numbers of males in college suggests that they experience more pressure to earn wages right after high school as opposed to females. The practicality of forgoing college long-term, in most instances, is not good. Such decisions create economic gaps and stagnation.

A growing trend are student success programs that colleges are putting in place to increase minority student enrollment and completion rates.  There are designated institutions such as HBCUs, MSIs, and HSIs that are intentionally and thoughtfully creating environments to improve their overall numbers.  And, there are groups such as AHSIEHBCU Faculty Development Network, and PennGSE Center for Minority Serving Institutions that are sharing best practices to help move the needle.

A recent presentation of C-STEMs research on minorities and females attitudes towards STEM education and careers at an AHSIE conference was fairly consistent with common themes being expressed by colleges from across the U.S.  We are not short on problems to solve, are working to eliminate the mismatches, and are increasingly using technology to identify and trigger responses to student academic and social challenges, sooner rather than later.