Diversifying the pool of STEM students and workers across the country is an especially hot funding area of late, as we've reported. In one recent gift I wrote about, private equity billionaire Robert Smith gave $50 million to his alma mater Cornell to fund scholarships and fellowships for groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering and technology.
Meanwhile, we've written about a long list of corporate funders, particulary tech companies, that are giving money for STEM diversity, with an eye on future workforce needs.
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Of course, institutions like Cornell aren't the only place where this type of work can occur. Consider historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), of which there are over 100. While HBCUs only produce 16 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans according to one source, these schools allot for around 22 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields earned by black students.
Not too long ago, Apple partnered with Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) and committed $40 million over four years to create a database of computer science majors at HBCUs, provide training for both students and faculty, and create scholarships.
Now comes news that Morehouse College in Atlanta recently secured $2.5 million in funding from Jim and Marilyn Simons towards educating math and science students. The billionaire Simons couple are well-known for their passion for mathematics and the sciences. The Simons Foundation’s Education & Outreach programs seek to "stimulate a deeper interest and understanding of science and mathematics among students, professionals and the interested public." Their project Math for America (MfA), meanwhile, offers a range of teaching fellowships and professional development opportunities for STEM teachers, and also has contributed to contributed to legislation on public teaching and education.
Significantly, this Simons gift didn't go through their foundation, but was personal, which is a reminder that not of the couple's giving tracks with the program priorities of the Simons Foundation.
Morehouse seems to be doing a lot of right things on the STEM front. Between 2004 and 2013, the Atlanta-based school produced the most black male baccalaureates in the biological sciences, physics, and mathematics and statistics, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.
As Jim Simons puts it, "Marilyn and I deeply appreciate the unique role that Morehouse plays in our country. We are fortunate to be able to support Morehouse in its efforts to provide top-quality math and science education to a cohort of future leaders in the STEM fields. It is our hope that Morehouse graduates will serve as role models and help attract new and diverse talent to the STEM professions."
It's also worth noting that HBCUs themselves have diversified over the years as well. In 2011, non-black students made up 19 percent of enrollment.