Minority Engineering Forum Examines College Affordability

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by Ronald Roach

WASHINGTON — During a research and policy forum organized Thursday by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) group, officials convened panel discussions to explore college affordability. Members of Congress attending the annual forum pledged their support for the STEM education funding as well as for the longtime minority engineering student scholarship and support organization.

“My colleagues and I have been working on a bill that I’ve just introduced last week that addresses the critical disparities in student achievement in math and science especially at the middle and high school level,” said U.S. Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio).

In addition to Fudge, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fl.), U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) spoke at the Annual NACME Research and Policy Forum. Held at the Rayburn Office Building on Capitol Hill, the forum was entitled “Confronting the New American Dilemma: Research, to Policy, To Action.”

“We have assembled a group of scholars, advocates, corporate executives, and elected officials to help us unravel the conundrum of college affordability and offer actionable policy recommendations for moving forward,” said Dr. Irving McPhail, the NACME president and CEO.

“The escalating cost of a college education serves as a barrier to postsecondary degree completion and is most acute for low-income and families of color,” he noted.

The forum also highlighted release of the 2011-12 NACME Scholars Report, which surveys minority engineering students in their first and final years of undergraduate education. The report includes findings on why minorities pursue STEM education pathways and post-graduate education.

McPhail told Diverse that NACME had prepared its policy brief to examine college affordability, raise concerns, and recommend action items “to ease the burden on young people and parents attempting to complete a college education.”

“You can’t really address the issue of engineering education at the postsecondary level if we’re not at the same time attempting to bring about some change in how higher education is financed,” he said.

The policy brief included three recommendations for higher education officials and policymakers to consider:

 

  • Reduce the amount of student loans disbursed to low-income students.
  • Increase both merit and need-based grant and scholarship support allotted to undergraduates.
  • Invest in the community college pathway.

 

Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said that his organization, which represents the interests of 47 public HBCUs, has found that underrepresented minority students disproportionately struggle with college financing  burdens that threaten their ability to remain in school from semester-to-semester.

“Our students spend more time worrying about how they’re going to get into and stay in school than they do preparing and studying in school. Many of them are working to stay in school. That’s a major distraction,” Taylor said. “They are bringing a set of issues to the table that frankly have less to do with their preparedness and their ability to compete and more to do with the fact that they are so overwhelmed with remaining financially eligible.”

Thursday’s forum came on the heels of a dinner the previous day during which the ExxonMobil Foundation honored NACME and announced renewed support for the organization with a four-year $1 million grant.

Since 1974, NACME has cultivated a national effort to increase the number of African-American, American Indian and Latino women and men in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and careers. Over the years with funding from corporate, foundation, and individual donors, NACME has supported roughly 24,000 students with more than $124 million in scholarships and other support. Currently, NACME provides scholarship support for more than 1,300 underrepresented minority engineering students that attend college in a national network of 50 NACME Partner Universities.

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