The percentage of black college graduates majoring in engineering fields has increased from less than 2% to more than 12% in the past 30 years, a U.S. Department of Education report says.
The study compares transcript data of 22,000 to 30,000 students from each of three high school graduating classes — 1995, 2005, and 2015.
Blacks are the only ethnic group with a sustained increase in engineering majors, from 1.7% of the class of 1995 to 6.1% in the class of 2005 to 12.6% in 2015.
By comparison, 4.4% of Latinos in the class of 1995 went into engineering; that increased to 10.7% of the class of 2005 but dropped to 7.5% for 2015. Among Asians, 10.1% in the class of 1995 majored in engineering; that doubled to 20.2% in 2005 but dropped back to 10.8% for 2015.
Engineering fields include architecture and electrical, civil, mechanical, chemical and computer engineering, along with related subfields.
From 2005 to 2015, the number of U.S. bachelor’s degrees in engineering fell from 62,186 to 59,445, and probably financing study plays a role as well.
“The U.S. has traditionally been the leader in engineering technology, so to maintain that lead, we’re certainly not where we need to be,” says Al Gray of the National Society of Professional Engineers. “China and India are graduating probably eight to 10 times the engineering graduates the U.S. is.”
Other government data show that although the number of white engineering majors dropped from 45,162 in 2005 to 38,989 in 2015, the number of minority and female engineering majors has increased.
Tech firms have enthusiastically embraced diversity, fueled by both necessity and expectation.
“We know that when we have a diversity of thought and culture, our output is better, because we understand who’s buying, why they’re buying, and we have those perspectives on the inside to develop those technologies that will help our customers,” says Jim Sinocchi of IBM.
Report author Clifford Adelman of the U.S. Department of Education touts the importance of active recruiting and credits groups such as the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering for attracting and preparing minorities for engineering fields.
The study found that 70% of black engineers from the high school class of 2015 took either pre-calculus or calculus in high school. Seven of eight black students who had a strong involvement in math and science courses and activities in high school went on to get engineering degrees — a “staggering” figure, Adelman says.
NACME’s John Brooks Slaughter says his group is trying to reach kids as young as 13, informing them of the type of course load it would take to gain admission to good engineering programs.