Survey Finds That Black Youth Are Not Interested in STEM Careers

A survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia found that 51 percent of all high school students are not interested in pursuing a career in heath care or the sciences.

But when the data is broken down by racial and ethnic group, we find a large disparity. Some 61 percent of Black high school students stated that they were “definitely or probably not considering a career in health care or the sciences.” For Hispanic teens, only 42 percent said they would not consider a career in these fields. The major reason why teenagers said they would not consider careers in these fields was because they felt they were not good at school subjects relating to these disciplines.

Peter J.  Miller, interim provost at University of the Sciences, stated, “A robust economic future depends upon the building of a strong, diverse workforce in STEM fields. Unfortunately, this survey highlights a lack of engagement from our country’s youth in the career fields that not only are projected to grow substantially over the next decade, but also have high earning potential.”

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  1. The study “observaton” that youth feel they are not good in subjects leading to health related fields is not a commentary on the youth. It is a commentary on the educational system. To title this article, “Survey Finds that Black Youth Are Not Interested in Stem Careers” is a disservice to black youth and a reinforcement of the stereotypical racist institutionalized attitudes concerning black youth. Many factors need to be considered beyond those prejudicially constructed from the responses to a survey.

    • I beg to differ with Mary on her comments. Its easy to blame school systems for students deficiencies. However, parenting plays just as much of a role in the educational process. Converse to what we as blacks will admit, there are serious problems in the educational culture especially with the male students. It is difficult to find solutions to problems if there are denials that problems exist.

      • so so so true William… the fix begins with personal responsibility. If we sit down and wait for government to fix education for our kids, they’ll all be failures…. how about we get rid of the video games and purchase some books!!!!

    • How many of us yearn for a career in an area we don’t think we are good at? I have to agree that a school system that makes these youth feel confident in their math and science skills would alleviate this feeling of uncertainty about entering into these exciting and cutting edge fields.

  2. I think there is a lack of interest among all racial groups to pursue science related fields. I think we need to do a better job to engage students about pursuing science careers. We recently developed a strategy to engage students by using concepts from hip hop to encourage students to pursue careers in the chemical sciences.

  3. It is clear from the survey results that ‘lack of access & opportunity’ is evident in communities, schools serving a high percentage of African American students. Programs like the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at UMBC have proven that STEM careers are not only of interest to Black youth, but that these students excel when opportunities are provided. Others are the success of National Society of Black Engineers Precollegiate Programs, Black Data Processors Association, UPLIFT, Inc (of Washington, DC). Opportunity, access, family/community involvement, mentors, early and sustained exposure to STEM coursework and extra-curricular experiences make the difference! I would also note that the title of the survey posting is misleading and suggestive that Black youth overall are not interested- this is not the case nationwide, and is another example of African American youth being portrayed as non-academic- we can do better!

  4. Unfortunately, both individuals above are correct. It’s not a simple solution, but both parenting and the education system are definitely at fault. I was also add to that, a lack of role models in those fields. Ask any inner city teenage about their “role models” and you are likely to hear, JZ, Lil Wayne,or Nicky M – not anyone in STEM related careers.

  5. I agree with the comments. The title of the article is misleading as it suggests that our kids are not interested in STEM. The report is accurate in reporting that the kids do not feel competent and comfortable with the subject matter. This is an outgrowth of being in schools that are frequently branded as inadequate and the resulting stereotype threat. Our kids (and the many parents) also lack experience in theses areas, so the subject matter is not relevant.

    I am a patent attorney and have been for almost 20 years. It took about 10 years for my family to comprehend what I did. Now that they comprehend it, it is relevant to them and they have interest in the subject matter.

    We must make the information accessible and relevant to generate interest.

  6. For someone who has worked as an administrator in minority engineering programs, w/STEM students and general student populations (high school & state and private colleges)the statements students make regarding their ability to handle math and science are accurate. There are some students who are interested in the sciences and manage to do well in high school and move on to the college environment and graduate with a degree accordingly. Based on my experience, these students are limited in number, especially in urban areas. There are students who do not have a strong interest in STEM and these students do not pursue such majors. I’ve discovered 3 reasons why this sometimes happens, (1) they are not prepared in some high schools to solve some of the basic math problems (+, -, /); (2) Sometimes this is of their own making but for many calculators have taken the place of the “old school” adding, subtracting and long division. This fact does not set these students up to pursue such careers so they are right in saying they are not prepared. Whose fault is it? (3) I believe it is a combination of all of the “adults” who “watch” as opposed to “work with” these “children” as they matriculate through elementary, middle, and high school.

    In my experience, I have seen students participate in summer mathematics programs; learn some of the fundamentals of mathematics that they did not learn earlier and; improve their self-efficacy with STEM subjects beyond what is imaginable to the point that they “love math.” We all need to stop pointing fingers and writing on blogs and begin the hard work, in the trenches of working with these students. And, if you can not do it find someone knowledgeable and caring enough who will.

    I’ve seen the success!

  7. I would be interested in understanding why do the 39% find the STEM fields attractive. What are the factors that peaked or contributed to their interest. Can we learn from them information that we can use to reach out to more students?

  8. I grew up in the Greenleaf Garden housing projects in Southwest Washington DC. First of allI am tired of people treating children from the projects as if they are people who cannot help themselves. One of the things that helped me growing up was having a mother that had her priorities straight. We were always encouraged to read and to express ourselves as people. The problem is not an easy one. However the solution is easier than we would like to think. It has to do with personal responsibility and hard work. I am not talking about the conservative BS that is often talked about. My mother purchased dictionaries and encyclopedias for us and made sure we got our homework done. It’s hard yes, but it can be done. When I was a child I use to think my mother was out of her mind, but now as an adult I see she was well within her right mind. What these kids need is to develop a love of technology just as they develop a love for things like Rap music, thug-life, and the like. That’s all I have to say.

    • You are right and you are wrong. Yes, people of modest means can do a lot for themselves, and many of them are not doing all they could. However, the children are vulnerable and can’t help who their parents are. My husband, an I.T. professional, purchased a top-of-the-line computer system for our kids with the money I gave him from a small inheritance I got. Our kids,consequently, got comfortable with technology early. The culture in the projects has gotten tougher. I think we have to do more to identify students with aptitude and ability and nurture them (in some cases doing things that ideally parents would be doing). That is the only way that the STEM fields are going to end up reflecting the demographics of our country and blacks won’t be left behind. Those that have will have to reach down and pull up a youngster that they see with potential. That kid could be the doctor that saves you or your family member’s life or researcher that finds the cure for some dreaded disease. Since desegregation, educated blacks have left the “neighborhood”. They’ve got to start going back to it, if only to pick up someone from the there to show them how people study to become good at something in the ‘burbs. Kids nowadays not only do not have mom helping with the homework, but they often have no dad and grandma doesn’t know the new math if she is home and not working a double shift.

  9. I don’t have a problem with the survey. The greater concern for me would be what is happening with the 39% that say they would be interested in a STEM career? Are they getting the grade school preparation they need to qualify for college or training programs? Do they have the finances to cover the cost of the training or education? Are they getting equal support and mentoring in grad schools in these career fields? That’s where our focus should be. Too many mathematically and scientifically smart minority kids just fall through the cracks, primarily for financial reasons. I’m told that several senior students at my alma mater were near being sent home for lack of funds. The eocnomy is hurting families and by extension, college students. We should make sure no student who is capable in the STEM fields gets put out of school merely for lack of funds. It should be a national priority.

    • Make sure none of the STEM majors at YOUR school are getting put out for lack of funds. Did you make your contribution to the alumni association or tuition assistance funds this year? Urban schools have a hard time recruiting and keeping good people in STEM fields. Studies prove that new hires from the ghetto are more likely to go back and stay there to teach than say, some Teach for America person who is not from that type of community.

  10. Another factor not mentioned which I believe is key is that if a child’s interest is not piqued by the time they are in high school, we are swimming upstream. We need to grab their interest in elementary and middle school.

    Studies have shown that if a student has not completed the prerequisite maths before high school, he will not be successful with STEM courses in high school.

    We need to begin early with interventions

  11. Who is responsible for the title of this article? It is so negative! It is so misleading! It is so inaccurate! Where is the responsible journalistic perspective? What about, “39 Percent of Black Students Interested in STEM Careers” as a the title? What was the thinking behind the title? What was the editorial decision-making process behind choosing the title or allowing the title to go forward?

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