As part of the USC Rossier School of Education Centennial Congressional Policy Briefing Series, the Center for Urban Education presented a briefing on April 19 in Washington, D.C., on how federal funding can be used effectively to increase Latino participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
A panel addressed recent findings from the center’s three-year National Science Foundation-funded research study focusing on identifying the pathways and educational practices that support Latina and Latino student success in STEM.
The briefing, which was attended by educators, policy analysts and legislative staffers, was timely because Congress is in the process of reauthorizing funding for the National Science Foundation. The issue of how to increase diversity in fields has been a key topic in the reauthorization debate.
Recent federal legislation directs funding to Hispanic serving institutions in new ways through the America COMPETES Act, which authorizes funding for the National Science Foundation and through the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act. The purpose of these funds is to strengthen and support Hispanic serving institutions in order to improve the numbers of Latinas and Latinos earning degrees in STEM fields.
Margarita Benitez, a former senior staffer at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education who was instrumental in launching all institutional development programs related to minority-serving higher education institutions, noted that the increasing numbers of Latinos in the U.S. is a cause for celebration by some and alarm by others. In introducing the panelists, she described them as “representing the goal posts of Latino success.”
“Those goals cannot be achieved without an inclusive, dynamic plan for the Latino population,” Benitez added in reference to President Obama’s 2010 initiative.
The panelists included Alicia C. Dowd, co-director of the Center for Urban Education and associate professor of higher education at USC Rossier; Sharon K. Hahs, president of Northeastern Illinois University; Ronald Blackburn-Moreno, president of the ASPIRA Association; and Shirley Malcom of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
During the briefing, Blackburn-Moreno differentiated between Hispanic serving institutions and non-Hispanic serving institutions. He argued that the characteristics of a successful Hispanic serving institution included a sustained commitment to STEM fields, an investment in outstanding faculty and partnerships with other institutions of higher education.
His recommendation was for the National Science Foundation to match Hispanic serving institutions with research-intensive universities that have received and invested large amounts of federal funding into STEM research.