Tennessee State University is pushing to expand higher education access for students in Middle Tennessee’s community colleges. They’ve received a grant for $1 million from the National Science Foundation, to recruit students of color, who are interested in enrolling into math, science, technology and engineering programs.
The grant will provide 45 scholarships to eligible students who want to pursue a four-year college degree.
“For TSU in particular, that is our mission. To specifically serve an underserved population to obtain a college degree with a conducive environment committed to their student success and achievement,” says S. Keith Hargrove, the dean of the College of Engineering. “Our faculty, staff and administration is dedicated to this mission and purpose.”
Despite some small progress, the number of Black students graduating with STEM degrees has remained virtually unchanged overall. This is as other racial groups are gaining ground in STEM industries. Hargrove says the disparity boils down to a lack of resources and career exposure.
Tennessee State’s College of Engineering enrolls about 900 students in its architectural, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering programs, according to the university.
“Our kids see a lot of athletes on TV and on sports. But do they see engineers? Do they see physicians? Do they see computer scientists? The answer quite frankly is no,” says Hargrove.
Still, the lack of exposure to STEM careers is only a small reason for the racial disparities in the country’s math and engineering industries.
According to nonprofit United Negro College Fund, “Black and white students across the country intend to pursue STEM degrees at similar rates.” However, the group says, financial barriers are one of the biggest reasons why Black students are less likely to complete their degrees.
“In many ways, this is the biggest challenge for students that attend TSU,” says Hargrove.