Dec. 13, 2018


Minority-Serving Colleges and Universities Are Positioned to Serve as a Greater Resource for Meeting U.S. STEM Workforce Needs, But Increased Attention and Investments Are Needed

WASHINGTON -- Higher education leaders, policymakers, and the private sector should take a range of actions to strengthen STEM programs and degree attainment in the nation’s Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. MSIs are underutilized resources for producing talent to fulfill the needs of the nation’s current and future STEM workforce, the report says.

“Given the projected demographic profile of our nation, the educational outcomes and STEM readiness of students of color will have direct implications for American’s economic growth, national security, and global prosperity,” said Lorelle Espinosa, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report, and vice president for research at the American Council on Education.

The report identifies promising strategies to support the long-term success of MSI students in STEM fields. MSIs’ most successful initiatives to support students are distinguished by intentionality: creating initiatives, policies, and practices tailored to meet students where they are in their college careers academically, financially, and socially, and doing so with a cultural mindfulness that moves students toward higher levels of academic achievement and self-confidence.

The report recommends that federal and state agencies, private and corporate foundations, and other stakeholders increase grants and form partnerships that enable implementation of promising strategies. 

Currently there are roughly 700 two- and four-year MSIs, which educate nearly 30 percent of all U.S. undergraduates.  Minority Serving Institutions traditionally fall into two categories. The first category includes Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges and Universities, which were established for the express purpose of providing access to higher education for a specific minority group. The second includes colleges and universities, such as Hispanic Serving Institutions, that are designated as MSIs by the U.S. Department of Education because they meet thresholds for enrollment (i.e., the percentage of students of color enrolled) and institutional expenditures. Importantly, the number of enrollment-based MSIs has grown significantly in the past 20 years, the report notes, and many more can be expected to emerge in coming decades as the nation’s demographics continue to change.

The report urges the nation to turn to MSIs as high-priority resources for STEM talent. When taken together, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions currently produce one-fifth of the nation’s STEM bachelor’s degrees. MSIs have markedly fewer financial resources than non-MSIs, and this disparity reduces their capacity to innovate and experiment with programs to support the nation’s workforce, to evaluate them, and to replicate those that prove effective.  Despite their limited resources, MSIs have been successful in providing a multifaceted return on investment for students, communities, and the STEM workforce, the report says. With targeted funding, attention, and support, they can contribute much more.

Based on a review of research literature, available data, and site visits to nine MSIs, the committee found evidence that seven broad strategies hold the greatest promise for strengthening the quality of STEM education and workforce preparation for MSI students:

More Investment Needed to Support the Use of Promising Strategies

Identifying what works at MSIs is only half the battle, the report says; substantial resources are also needed to help advance the success of MSIs and their students. Long-term commitments are needed from federal and state governments, tribal nations, and the philanthropic and private sectors. The report urges these stakeholders to increase funding opportunities in the form of government contracts and competitive and non-competitive grants, and to incentivize and support partnerships that enable promising strategies to be implemented. Targeted investments would enable MSIs to recruit and retain high-quality faculty, to procure and maintain state-of-the-art laboratories and facilities, to offer needed academic and social supports to students, and to compete effectively for access to federal grants and contracts that fuel important research discoveries and innovation.

At the same time, a significant share of responsibility for elevating the role of MSIs in the nation’s educational and infrastructure lies with MSIs themselves, said the committee. “For MSIs to be competitive in the educational marketplace and to contribute to the nation’s overall economic competitiveness, they will require bold leadership and a purposeful commitment to innovate, especially in an era where neither federal nor private funding is plentiful,” said committee co-chair Kent McGuire, program director of education at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The report offers a range of recommendations to stakeholders, for example:

The study was sponsored by the ECMC Foundation, Helmsley Charitable Trusts, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Wallace Foundation. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions relations to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit A committee roster follows.

Sara Frueh, Senior Media Relations Officer
Andrew Robinson, Media Relations Assistant
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Copies of Minority Serving Institutions: America’s Underutilized Resource for Strengthening the STEM Workforce are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


Policy and Global Affairs Division
Board on Higher Education and the Workforce

Committee on Closing the Equity Gap: Revitalizing STEM Education and Workforce Readiness Program's in the Nation’s Minority Serving Institutions

Lorelle L. Espinosa (co-chair)
Vice President for Research
American Council on Education
Washington, D.C.

Kent C. McGuire (co-chair)
Program Director of Education
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Menlo Park, Calif.

Jim Bertin
Math Instructor
Chief Dull Knife College
Billings, Mont.

Anthony Carpi
Associate Provost and Dean of Research
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
City University of New York
New York City

Aprille J. Ericsson
New Business Lead
Instrument Systems and Technology Division
Goddard Space Flight Center
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Greenbelt, Md.

Lamont Hames
President and CEO
LMH Strategies Inc.
Washington, D.C.

Wesley L. Harris1
Charles Stark Draper Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Eve J. Higginbotham2
Inaugural Vice Dean for Inclusion and Diversity
Perelman School of Medicine
University of Pennsylvania

Spero M. Manson2
Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Psychiatry, and
Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health
Colorado School of Public Health

James T. Minor
Assistant Vice Chancellor
California State University
Long Beach

Leo S. Morales
Chief Diversity Officer,
School of Medicine, and
Adjunct Professor
School of Public Health
University of Washington

Anne-Marie Núñez
Associate Professor
Department of Educational Studies
Ohio State University

Clifton A. Poodry
Senior Science Education Fellow
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Chevy Chase, Md.

William E. Spriggs
Department of Economics
Howard University; and
Chief Economist
Washington, D.C.

Victor K. Tam
Dean of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
Santa Rosa Junior College
Santa Rosa, Calif.

Cristina Villalobos
Myles and Sylvia Aaronson Professorship
School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Dorothy C. Yancy
President Emerita
Shaw University and Johnson C. Smith University; and
Board of Trustees
Morehouse College

Lance Shipman Young
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of Chemistry
Morehouse College


Leigh Jackson
Staff Officer

1Member, National Academy of Engineering
2Member, National Academy of Medicine