New Report Highlights Negative Impact of Debt on Graduate Enrollment in STEM for Latino Students
Findings Say Reducing Undergraduate Debt is Key to Broadening Participation for Latinos in STEM Fields
May 17, 2011
LOS ANGELES -Controlling undergraduate debt through financial aid policy can increase the number of Latino students who become scientists, engineers, and mathematicians by enabling them to continue to invest in their education beyond the bachelor’s degree, according to a new report by USC Rossier School of Education’s Center for Urban Education. Underrepresented students, particularly Latino students, borrow at higher rates to pay for undergraduate degrees, which limits their ability to invest in graduate and professional schools.
“With growing attention to student loan debt, this is the opportune time for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to consider innovative ways for the federal government to support student investments in STEM degrees by providing a more balanced package of loans, grants, work study aid, and community or business sector support,” said Dr. Alicia C. Dowd, Associate Professor at the University of Southern California, Co-Director of the Center for Urban Education, and co-author of the report.
The report, Reducing Undergraduate Debt to Increase Latina and Latino Participation in STEM Professions, examines the borrowing patterns of undergraduate students and the relation of that debt to enrollment in graduate school. It shows that even low amounts of debt can have a negative impact on graduate enrollment. Latino students with high debt, relative to others in their class, are 17% less likely than students without debt to go on to graduate or professional school. Those with low debt were nearly 14% less likely. The National Academies recently issued a report calling for a short term goal of doubling participation of African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and other racial-ethnic groups in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), with long term goals that call for tripling and even quadrupling their enrollment. The Center for Urban Education’s report makes it clear this increase is unlikely without addressing the issue of financing undergraduate education.
For White and Asian STEM students, more students take on some amount of debt at less selective institutions, and the proportion of borrowers decreases at very and highly selective schools. For Latino and African American students, the type of institution is not as important. Overall, they borrow at much higher rates than other racial-ethnic groups.
“We’ve seen some good news with the number of Latinos completing master’s and doctoral degrees but this critical demographic is still severely underrepresented among all STEM master’s and doctoral degree recipients,” said Dr. Lindsey E. Malcom, Assistant Professor at George Washington University and co-author of the report. “Advanced degrees are typically required for entry into STEM professions and faculty positions so these trends must improve.”
While increased undergraduate debt is a national concern as it can decrease recent graduates’ ability to function in society, this report raises the issue that undergraduate debt is not just a quality of life concern for graduates, but may be negatively impacting the nation’s workforce by limiting the number of students who go on to graduate school. A prior report in this series noted increasing participation of Latino STEM students at all degree levels is not just a matter of fairness and social equity, but of workforce need. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in STEM occupations will increase by 21.3% from 2008 to 2018 - more than double the growth in other occupations. Latinos are the fastest growing demographic group and are projected to make up 25% of the U.S. population in 2020.
Recommendations from the report include:
- Continue and enlarge the federal Pell grant program.
- Reduce the risk of unmanageable debt by keeping interest rates steady at their current levels.
- Expand access to research assistantships, particularly at institutions that serve high numbers of Latino such as Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and community colleges.
- Create a STEM focused work-study program
- Explore the potential of Individual Development Accounts (IDAs)
- Monitor the use of Title V HSI-STEM funds to ensure they’re promoting Latino student preparation and success in STEM
- Disaggregate analysis of student loan debt by race and ethnicity to monitor borrowing in federal subsidized loan programs
The report comes from a research grant funded by the National Science Foundation and is the fourth in a series. It was written by Dr. Alicia C. Dowd, Associate Professor and co-director at the Center for Urban Education (CUE), and Dr. Lindsey E. Malcom, Assistant Professor at George Washington University.
Established at the University of Southern California in 1999 as part of the University's urban initiative, the Center for Urban Education (CUE) leads socially conscious research and develops tools needed for institutions of higher education to produce equity in student outcomes.
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