The Many Challenges Facing Black Students Pursuing STEM Doctorates

A new report from RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, and commissioned by the Sloan Foundation, explores the educational experiences of Black and Hispanic doctoral recipients in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The paper’s findings reveal sharp disparities in the experiences of Black STEM Ph.D. recipients, relative to their Asian, Hispanic, and White counterparts. For example, the research team found that Black STEM Ph.D. recipients are considerably more likely to earn their doctorate from a private for-profit institution and that they also take significantly longer to complete their degree and borrow substantially more for their graduate education. Black Ph.D. recipients are also more likely to earn a master’s degree at a separate institution before beginning their doctoral studies and less likely to receive assistantships and fellowships during their doctoral training, according to the findings.

“Black students face some particular challenges when earning doctorates in STEM fields,” said Erin Dunlop Velez, a director of education research at RTI who led the analysis alongside RTI senior research education analyst Ruth Heuer and Sloan Foundation program director Lorelle Espinosa. “For example, Black students take considerably longer to complete their doctorate degree, and borrow significantly more, than their Asian, Hispanic and White counterparts.”

Velz added that “understanding the particular challenges Black STEM doctorate recipients face is an important first step to developing programs to better support them. This kind of analysis will help institutions learn how to better support Black and Hispanic students and encourage pathways into STEM careers.”

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