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Renewed emphasis on gaps in college success for minorities

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"We need to be concerned about maintaining American preeminence in science, engineering, and technology, and the reality is that unless we bring young minorities into [these] careers in dramatically increasing numbers, we're not going to be able to maintain that competitive edge," says Irving Pressley McPhail, NACME's executive vice president.

While 30 percent of undergraduates are Latinos, African-Americans, or American Indians, these groups make up 12 percent of bachelor's degrees in engineering, NACME reports. They are projected to make up nearly 40 percent of college students by 2025, so preparation in younger grades needs to pick up pace, Mr. McPhail says.

Currently, only 4 percent of these minority students finish high school "engineering eligible," having passed requisite math and science courses. That lack of preparation shows up in the high rate at which students drop out of science majors in college, experts say. Many of them have trouble passing core courses.

NACME calls on educators, businesses, and government to tackle the challenges together. And for successful programs to continue, McPhail says, leaders in all three sectors need to stand up to the "anti-affirmative action movement."

The New York City College of Technology (City Tech) in Brooklyn has addressed these issues head on. As part of the Black Male Initiative (BMI) at the City University of New York (CUNY), it's working to recruit and retain more people in science, technology, and engineering. The program is open not only to African-American males, but to any student who wants mentoring and the possibility of partnering with professors on scientific research.

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