Going Downhill

African-American men, both students and professors, filled my science classes at all-male, historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. My general chemistry professor, Dr. Virgil Payne, would challenge us by saying many students "go downhill" (where the nonscience classes were located--that is, change to a nonscience major), but rarely "trek uphill" (switch to a science major). Payne's reference serves as an apt metaphor for the lack of minority males in science and engineering (S&E) programs across the nation. While minority males are more likely to choose S&E majors than white males, they also switch to non-S&E degrees more often, according to a 2002 NSF Report .1 Where are all the minority males? This article examines the data to get an answer to that question.

The Gender Gap

Although, minority representation in S&E has significantly increased in the past 20 years1 primarily because of gains made by women, men have not kept pace. African-American, Native American, and Hispanic men made up approximately 42%, 48%, and slightly less than 50% of their respective racial groups' 2001 S&E graduate enrollments.2 The lack of minority male graduate enrollments in S&E contrasts with the overall S&E graduate population, which is 59% male. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Most S&E grad students are male, except for minorities.

The minority gender gap also exists in the number of S&E graduate degrees earned, albeit to a lesser extent. African-American men earned less than half of the S&E doctorates awarded to African-Americans in 1999.1 However, Hispanic men earned half their share and Native American men slightly more than half of the S&E doctorates awarded to their respective racial groups.1 The dearth of minority males contrasts with the overrepresentation of males among whites and Asians in S&E, especially in engineering, mathematics, computer science, and the natural sciences.1, 3 Overall, nearly twice the total S&E doctorates awarded were earned by men in 1999.1 The lack of minority males goes beyond the S&E community, but does this shortage extend beyond minority populations as some contend?

Figure 2. Large disparities between men and women minority S&E grad students, when broken down by race (2001).

Problems Beyond S&E

The number of bachelor's degrees earned by men increased by 19%, whereas women rose by 77% between 1970 and 1996.4 Consequently, males now account for 44% of the nation's total undergraduate enrollment.4 Several private liberal arts colleges and some large research universities--University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and DePaul University in Chicago--have adopted affirmative action programs or begun recruiting males more aggressively to increase their numbers. 4

Despite these trends, evidence disputes that the problem extends beyond minority males. Whereas 59% of white men who entered NCAA Division I colleges in 1996 graduated within 6 years, only 46% of Hispanic men, 41% of Native American, and 35% of African-American men graduated. Economic differences account for some of these trends. Male enrollment plummets among "low-income" (less than $30,000 a year) families, which are disproportionately minority.5

Undergraduate enrollment among low-income Native American, African-American, and Hispanic males is less than their race's females by 27%, 18%, and 7%, respectively. These differences are all greater than the 4% decrease of low-income white males to white females. The enrollment gender gap closes and sometimes reverses for all races at the middle- and upper-income levels, except for African Americans. Collegiate-level African-American women outnumber men at every economic level.6,7 The chairwoman of Georgia's African American Male Initiative ( AAMI), Arlethia Perry-Johnson, cites the disproportionate labeling of African-American men as discipline and behavioral problems at a young age as possible causes for such problems regardless of socioeconomic status.6

Brothers Gonna Work It Out

Whatever the reason or reasons for the gender gap among minorities, several programs have recently been established to increase the success of minority men in college. Schools, including Amherst, Swarthmore, and Wesleyan colleges, have pooled their resources to research the lack of minority males in college. Historically black Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York, recently created a Male Development and Empowerment Center and a freshman orientation class to help male students adjust to college life. Additionally, the Georgia University System developed the AAMI to increase college enrollment and graduation rates among black men.8

While these programs combat the general lack of minority males in college, what about the specific lack of minority males in S&E? Minority-serving institutions may be the answer. A disproportionate share of African-American and Hispanic males (as well as females) who received their S&E doctorates between 1995 and 1999 attended minority-serving institutions as undergraduates.1 Twenty-five percent of African Americans and 23% of Hispanics receiving S&E doctorates received their bachelor's degrees at historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions, respectively.1 Minority-serving institutions overachieve in producing much higher numbers (of either sex) of minority S&E graduate success stories than majority institutions. However, these institutions represent less than 10% of all U.S. colleges and universities combined, so there is only so much that they can accomplish alone.

Still More Minority Men Than Minority Women Professors

While minority males struggle at the student level of S&E (and college period), no real progress has been made for either sex among S&E faculty, although minority males slightly outnumber minority females. Men dominate S&E professorships, regardless of field and race.10 Among the top 50 universities in chemistry, physics, computer science, mathematics, and engineering, at least 69% (most times this number is much higher) of the professors are men, according to a report recently released by University of Oklahoma chemistry professor Dr. Donna Nelson.9 The lack of female professors was far greater among minority women.9 Although the number of master's degrees and doctorates increased for every racial and gender category, except for white males,1 white--and, to a lesser extent, Asian--men constituted the clear majority of S&E graduate and faculty positions between 1990 and 1999.9

Nelson's report corroborates a recently released study by the U.S. Department of Education that emphasizes the disproportionately high number of male S&E professors.10 The report also cites the salary advantage men of all racial groups enjoy over women.10 While the unadjusted salaries of African-American faculty members were lower than those of whites, when variables were controlled, the wage gap disappeared.10 However, the study cautions that the markedly lower numbers of tenured and working African-American faculty at doctoral institutions could obscure racially biased salary discrepancies.10

More Work to Do

The present minority gender gap is detrimental for the well-being of the U.S., not only to those of a particular race. The lack of female S&E professors and income shortages show that strides must still be made for minority men and women to be well represented in S&E. As minorities become the nation's majority, people of color must actively participate in S&E from the undergraduate to the faculty level. The successes of minority-serving institutions must be analyzed and adopted to the larger higher education system. Finally, more studies and programs must be implemented so those minorities who successfully complete their graduate education can find tenured positions in academic S&E.


  • National Science Foundation. Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2002.


  • U.S. Census Bureau. 2001 Survey of Doctorate Recipients.


  • National Science Board. Science & Engineering Indicators--2002.


  • Fonda, Daren. The Male Minority. Online Time (2 December 2000).


  • U.S. Census Bureau. School Enrollment--Social and Economic Characteristics of Students: October 2002.


  • Alexander, Bill. Number of black men in college dwindle: Only 35% graduated within six years from college. Online MSNBC News (14 January 2004).


  • Browenstein, Andrew. Are Male Students in Short Supply, or Is This 'Crisis' Exaggerated? New report says the gender gap in enrollments is largely a matter of race and economic class. Online Chronicle of Higher Education (3 November 2000).


  • Arenson, Karen W. Colleges Struggle to Help Black Men Stay Enrolled. Online New York Times (30 December 2003).


  • "The Nelson Diversity Surveys" Nelson, D.J.: Norman, OK, 2002;


  • Gender and Racial/Ethnic Differences in Salary and Other Characteristics of Postsecondary Faculty: Fall 1998 Statistical Analysis Report. Retrieved from the World Wide Web:


  • Clinton Parks is a writer for MiSciNet and may be reached at cparks@aaas.org.

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