It is often difficult to distinguish whether the graduates of a challenging academic program are successful because of their educational experiences, or whether the program simply selected individuals destined for success into the program. It is usually impossible to conduct a true experiment with random assignment of students to educational opportunities. However, large-scale shifts in policy can serve as "natural experiments" that change the way students are matched to educational programs and allow us to identify causal consequences of education. The specific research question addressed by this project is: Do institution-level shifts in the number of science and engineering degrees conferred lead to measurable changes in graduate outcomes?for example: higher earnings, increased participation in the science and engineering workforce, or a larger probability of filing patents?relative to similar earlier graduates? And how does the research inform the science of science policy?
Writing in 1994, William Trent and John Hill described a concerted effort by a group of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to expand educational opportunities in engineering, computer science and other technical fields, "to prepare their students for expanded career choices." Preliminary evidence suggests that a shift in the relative participation of black college graduates in occupations related to engineering, math, computer science, or physical sciences (EMS) occurred at about the same time. Furthermore, growth in EMS college majors was particularly strong among students most likely to attend HBCUs: those who attended high school in the South. The initial phase of this project is designed to distinguish whether the growth was driven by HBCU policies, or by change at other southern institutions. The second phase involves assembling more than 30 years of data on the number and type of degrees conferred by each U.S. institution of higher education (collected annually by the U.S. Department of Education), analyzing the data to find other examples of large institution-level (or state-level) shifts in the number of science and engineering degrees conferred, and combining this information with data from other sources to discover the resulting educational and economic impacts.
The initial phase of this research is designed to reveal the institution-level processes underlying recent expansion of science and engineering participation by a persistently underrepresented minority group. More generally, the research project expands knowledge about the extent to which exposure to science or engineering education at the undergraduate level changes the set of skills college graduates bring to the labor market, and whether that change is substantial enough to affect a whole host of outcome measures including earnings, occupation, and patent activity.
Broader Impacts The knowledge gained from this research project informs individual-level career-path choices as well as educational and workforce policies. Educational materials appropriate for middle school or high school students are intended teach fundamental mathematics concepts while they convey motivating information-- derived from this research-- about the economic value of pursuing academically challenging educational programs.