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MU Minority Graduate Students’ Challenges are Focus of National Study

Officials from MU’s graduate school will determine best methods to enhance success of minority graduate students in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

April 03, 2012

Story Contact(s):
Christian Basi,, 573-882-4430

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— Dropout rates in doctoral programs average between 40 and 50 percent, with minority students finishing at lower rates, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. Now, a national, multi-university study of minority graduate students who major in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields will be conducted to identify specific challenges minority students face and potential solutions. The University of Missouri recently received a $30,000 grant to take part in the study.

“The transition to graduate school can be difficult for many students,” said Mannie Liscum, associate dean for the MU Graduate School. “Many leave after a few months because it may not be the right fit for them, but it is the students who leave after being in the programs for three and five years that concern us most. While the reasons for leaving vary widely, minority students often leave for personal and cultural reasons that non-minority students might never face. Financial stresses and social stigmas in their own families and communities are some of the most frequent challenges facing our minority students.”

MU was one of 21 universities chosen to participate in the study, which is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and managed by the Council of Graduate Schools. MU officials will collect and report data on the retention and graduation rates for underrepresented minority students who enrolled in STEM doctoral programs from Fall Semester 1992 through Spring Semester 2012. Researchers also will interview select groups of students in focus groups. The data will be sent to the Council of Graduate Schools to be analyzed. Results are expected by June 2014.

“After the first couple of years, the reason to leave typically has little or nothing to do with a student’s ability,” Liscum said. “We don’t believe for a second that there is a single, silver-bullet fix. We’re anticipating that this study will allow us to reflect on our own strengths and weaknesses to determine how we can best help our students. Retention is only part of the story; we also need to address how we ultimately facilitate students’ successes while in their programs and how to best prepare them to enter the work environment.”

At MU, Liscum and his colleagues will survey graduate students in 33 programs identified as STEM fields. The survey will be provided by the Council of Graduate Schools. MU is the only Missouri school participating in the study.

“This is about more than recruiting students and keeping them here,” Liscum said. “It’s about giving our students the opportunities they need to be as successful as possible in their graduate programs.”