Future of STEM Initiatives at HBCUs Uncertain Under Trump's Administration

Historically Black Colleges and Universities are essential to producing qualified STEM professionals. Tashni-Ann Dubroy, a chemist, former BASF manager and president of Shaw University, offers insight.

By Sheryl Estrada


Administrators at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are concerned about whether STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education advocacy will continue under President-elect Donald Trump's administration.

Trump has not disclosed any policy positions on HBCUs. In regard to STEM, early education and exposure are key for students to pursue a career in the sciences. With his cabinet picks, such as school-choice advocate Betsy DeVos for secretary of education, it remains to be seen if students of color around the country will have increased access to schools equipped with science and computer labs and trained STEM teachers.

HBCUs make up just 3 percent of colleges and universities in the United States yet produce 27 percent of Black students with bachelor's degrees in STEM fields, according to U.S. Department of Education (DOE) data.

A recent National Science Foundation report found that HBCUs are 21 of the top 50 institutions for educating African American graduates who go on to receive their doctorates in science and engineering.

The DOE specifically created an Office of STEM to help coordinate programs throughout the department and across its federal partners. To meet the nation's evolving workforce needs, the DOE has stated the U.S. will need to add 1 million more STEM professionals by 2022.

"I think at this time, we are entering an era of unpredictability," Tashni-Ann Dubroy, president of Shaw University, told DiversityInc. "We are unsure of what the outcomes will be. But I think we have the opportunity to manage those outcomes."

Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy

Shaw University is a private, coed college located in Raleigh, N.C., with an undergraduate population of just under 1,700 students. Founded in 1865, it is the oldest HBCU in the south, whose current president, at age 36, is one of the youngest college presidents in the country.

Dubroy, a chemist, is a reflection of the STEM students she serves. She earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry at Shaw, a doctorate in physical organic chemistry from North Carolina State University and an MBA from Rutgers University.

"What I can tell from President-elect Donald Trump's narrative is that he is a 'bottom line' guy," Dubroy explained. "And he is interested in looking at return on investment.

"If the dollars and cents add up, he's more than likely to invest in it. What I'm looking forward to doing, along with my colleagues, is presenting proposals that highlight the value of HBCUs, and highlight how it is that we can create centers of innovation, STEM innovation in particular. And, how it is that we can impact students all across the United States in order to increase the volume of students that pursue the STEM fields."

In his acceptance speech, Trump said that his administration would put "millions of our people to work" by rebuilding infrastructure including bridges, highways and tunnels. But the $1 trillion price tag is not sitting well with Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell, who told reporters on Capitol Hill on Monday, "It will be interesting to see how this is put together. I hope we avoid a trillion-dollar stimulus."

When there is a tangible infrastructure plan, Dubroy said HBCU presidents "should look at it as an opportunity."

Major tech companies understand the type of return on investment Dubroy thinks may convince Trump's administration on the importance of STEM education at HBCUs.

In February, Shaw became the first private HBCU in North Carolina to receive a $50,000 grant from Apple and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) aimed at increasing the number of highly trained minority technology professionals at the company.

Dubroy herself was identified as a high-potential employee when beginning her career as a research scientist at BASF (No. 24 on the DiversityInc 2016 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list), a chemical manufacturing corporation. She was eventually appointed to serve as chemical procurement manager at the company, where she managed a strategic sourcing budget of $35 million.

"I had a few mentors [at BASF] and sponsors, some of whom did not look like me," Dubroy said. "But they were outstanding in their ability to assist me in the next phase of my career goals."

Dubroy left the company to pursue an entrepreneurial career, opening two businesses. She eventually returned to her alma mater, Shaw, becoming its 17th president in June 2015.

Keeping the Current Investment in HBCUs

Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. wrote a column in October about the Obama administration's investment in HBCUs.

"Each year, at the Department of Education, we invest over $4 billion in HBCUs, so they can offer college degrees that are accessible and affordable, and so that campuses are providing the kind of supports that drive student success," he said. "We have also fought hard to strengthen the Pell Grant programs, and have seen Pell Grant funding for HBCU students rise from $523 million in 2007 to $824 million in 2014 — amounting to more than a 150-percent increase."

In a March statement, the DOE called HBCUs "particularly critical to meeting the STEM challenge" and said that the Obama administration "has instituted policies that provide $850 million over the next decade to renew, reform, and expand programs to ensure students have the opportunity for educational and career success at HBCUs."

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist and President Emerita of Bennett College, an HBCU for women in Greensboro, N.C. In an opinion piece, Malveaux suggested that it may be up to President Obama to ensure the federal commitment to HBCUs continues.

"In these last days of his administration, the president can use his executive orders to bring money to HBCUs, to mandate federal contracting with HBCUs, to curtail strict enforcement of Parent Plus loan qualifications, to provide additional scholarships for our outstanding students," she said.

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