Indigenous students have historically been underrepresented in computer science programs despite the growth in the number of computer science degrees awarded annually, according to a new report from the Kapor Foundation, an organization focused on the intersection of racial justice and technology.
The report, which was released Tuesday, shows that only 1.4 percent of associate degrees and 0.6 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science were awarded to Native students. Enrollment in computer science programs among Native students also remains stagnant at both two-year and four-year institutions, the report says. According to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, Western Governors University, an online university, conferred the highest number of computer science degrees—79—to Indigenous students in 2021. Only two other institutions, Northeastern State University and University of Maryland Global Campus, awarded double-digit numbers of degrees, at 11 and 21, respectively.
“These students continue to have a limited presence in these spaces due to broader structural issues, such as underfunding of institutions that serve greater proportions of Native students, a disconnect between computing education and tribal priorities, computing pathways driven by Western principles and values … and inaccessible resources,” the report reads.
Low enrollment in these programs also means low Indigenous representation in the workplace. Out of the top 200 tech companies, not one has a board member of American Indian or Native Alaskan descent, the report shows.
Indigenous representation has decreased since 2018 at two of the six largest U.S.-based tech companies that report the number of Indigenous people employed by them. Apple dropped from 1 percent to 0.5 percent and Microsoft from 0.8 percent to 0.6 percent, the report said.
“As drivers of regional and rural economies, Tribal Nations are at the forefront of job growth and should be considered critical partners in the future of the technology sector,” the Kapor Foundation stated. “However, due to a long history of colonization, exclusionary policies, and current practices, Native communities continue to remain excluded.”