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How HBCUs Are Creating a New Generation of STEM Leaders

Whether you’re riding down a highway in your car or sitting on your couch scrolling through your social feed, someone made it possible. In all likelihood, that person had a degree in the STEM field. People in STEM occupations – science, technology, engineering and math – create inventions that make our lives easier and change what we thought was possible.

From their earliest days, HBCUs have produced graduates who have transformed STEM. Over the years, HBCUs have crafted unique environments that prepare their students not only to graduate but also succeed in the world of STEM. 

STEM by the Numbers

STEM occupations include chemists, doctors, engineers, software developers and many more. STEM research has been used to develop new medicines, safer fuels and much more. It’s no wonder then that STEM fields are expected to produce jobs at twice the rate of non-STEM specialties for the rest of this decade.

Yet, diversity remains a major issue in STEM. On the bright side, the number of African Americans and other underrepresented racial groups earning STEM degrees has increased steadily since the 1990s. But African Americans, women and other marginalized groups are still extremely underrepresented in these fields. For example, African Americans were 14% of the college-aged population in 2021. Despite this, the most recent government data show during the same time frame, African American students earned just 7.4% of degrees in agricultural and biological sciences, 5.6% of degrees in physical sciences and 4.6% of engineering degrees.

The absence of African Americans and other underrepresented groups limits STEM’s ability to solve problems. Without diversity, STEM creates technology that ignores darker skin tones or female voices. Diversifying STEM increases the chances that STEM-based solutions will benefit the largest possible number of people.


HBCUs play a huge role in diversifying the STEM sector. HBCUs enroll just 10% of African American college students. Yet, HBCUs graduate 25% of African Americans with STEM degrees. Even better, 46% of Black women who earned STEM degrees got them at HBCUs. Clearly, HBCUs are doing their part to bring diverse candidates into STEM.

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) work makes the impact of HBCUs even more clear. The NSF keeps track of the undergraduate colleges that African American doctoral degree recipients attend. The NSF’s most recent report found that HBCUs produce more African American Ph.D.’s than their peers. In fact, HBCUs made up four of the top ten undergraduate schools for engineering. For physical sciences, HBCUs were eight of the top ten Ph.D. producers.

Top 10 Undergraduate Institutions Attended by African American PhD recipients
(HBCUs are in italics.)
RankLife SciencesPhysical and Earth SciencesMath/Computer SciencesEngineering
1Univ. of Maryland, Baltimore CountyMorehouse CollegeUniv. of Maryland, Baltimore CountyNC A&T State Univ.
2Spelman CollegeFlorida A&M Univ.Spelman CollegeMorgan State Univ.
3Howard UniversityXavier Univ. of LouisianaNC A&T State Univ.Univ. of Maryland, Baltimore County
4Florida A&M Univ.Hampton UniversityMorehouse CollegeUniv. of Maryland, College Park
5Xavier Univ. of LouisianaHoward UniversityJackson State Univ.Georgia Institute of Technology
6Univ. of FloridaJackson State Univ.Florida A&M Univ.Mass. Institute of Technology
7NC A&T State Univ.Alabama A&M Univ.Howard UniversityCUNY, City College
8Jackson State Univ.NC State Univ.Morgan State Univ.Univ. of Florida
9Tuskegee Univ.Southern U. and A&M C. Baton RougeGeorgia Institute of TechnologyFlorida A&M Univ.
10Univ. of Maryland, College ParkUniv. of Maryland, Baltimore CountyUniv. of FloridaHoward University
Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, InfoBrief: Baccalaureate Origins of Underrepresented Minority Research Doctorate Recipients available here. Data is from 2010-2020. Rankings are approximate as some schools were tied.

How HBCUs Diversify STEM

HBCUs don’t magically create STEM graduates. Their success comes from the efforts of many different people and institutions.

The HBCU environment supports African American student success. African American students at traditional colleges often feel isolated which hinders their success. But at HBCUs, these students are surrounded by people who look like them. This generates a sense of belonging that helps them excel.

HBCU presidents and administrators have a crucial role. They secure STEM collaborations with major companies, raise money to support STEM efforts and much more. This commitment attracts new students and lets current students know that their school values their hard work.

HBCU faculty are perhaps the biggest contributors to their students’ success in STEM. HBCU faculty have high expectations, but they also remind students of their abilities. This encouragement and support from faculty pushes students to try harder. Faculty also serve as role models of what students can achieve after graduation.

Other students also play a role. Unlike schools that reward competition, HBCUs encourage collaboration. So, HBCU students want to be the best but they also want to see others do well. Because both success and failure belong to everyone, students feel a responsibility to do their best.

The Home Depot Thanks HBCUs

HBCU graduates diversify the STEM sector and blaze a path for those that follow. The Home Depot is proud to support HBCUs in their ongoing efforts to support students in STEM and other fields.

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