Portrait of Minority-Group Professors in the Sciences

October 14, 2011

African-American scholars who earned their Ph.D.s at highly research intensive universities are significantly less likely than white, Latino and Asian peers to be employed at similar universities, a new National Science Foundation study finds. The NSF study examines numerous characteristics of minority Ph.D. recipients in science, engineering and health fields -- from where they earned their doctorates, where they work now, and their rank, status and fields of study at those institutions, among other things -- and the finding on black Ph.D.s is among the most interesting.

While 41.5 percent of all professors who earned doctorates in science, engineering and health fields at American universities with "very high" research activity were employed by such institutions in 2008, the figure was much lower (30.8 percent) for African-Americans. (No other racial group was below 39.1 percent, the figure for Latino scholars.) The study finds that the black scholars were likelier than others to work instead at master's-granting universities, and attributes the finding, in part, to the fact that meaningful numbers of them work at historically black universities, which by and large are master's institutions. That probably accounts for about a third of the gap, estimates Ansley Abraham, director of the Southern Regional Education Board's SREB-State Doctoral Scholars Program, and while some of those professors are at HBCUs by choice, because they believe in the institutions' mission, "we don't know how many ended up there because they didn't have other good choices."

Among the study's other findings:

  • Black scholars were significantly less likely than science and health Ph.D. recipients of other races to have earned their doctorates from U.S. universities with very high research activity (63 percent vs. 80 percent for white Ph.D. recipients, 77.1 percent for Hispanics, and 79.3 percent for Asians).
  • About one-third of black, 37 percent of Latino, 91 percent of Asian and 11 percent of white recipients of science, engineering or health Ph.D.s from American universities were not born in the United States.

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