In 2017, only 3 percent of the tech industry’s philanthropic dollars went toward college-level computer science programs, while 66 percent went to programs in K-12 schools. This allocation is broken. It assumes that K-12 investments alone can quickly and efficiently move the needle, but the current landscape of computing education tells a different story: Less than half of public high schools offer any basic computer science courses. Even fewer provide the more rigorous advanced placement tracks. In California, for example, schools in low-income areas are four times less likely to offer advanced computer science courses, and rural schools are seven times less likely. Decades of focused investment in K-12 education have not yet led to a more diverse industry.
There are bright spots. A newer advanced placement course has drawn more female, Black, and Latino high school students to the field. But it and others like it still leave us with the problem of limited access to basic courses that often inspire students to study computer science in college. The result of this is a stunning failure of the tech industry to improve the diversity of the people trained in the field: Black, Latina, and Native American women, for example, collectively received only 4 percent of computer science degrees in 2017, down from 7 percent in 2003.
We are not arguing against investments in K-12 schools, but there are good reasons that doing more to support higher education institutions will improve DEI in the tech industry—though it must be done better to address flaws in the current approach and the struggles of colleges. We base our observations on our collective decades of experience working in academia and on corporate advocacy, witnessing firsthand how higher education and the private sector have the power to move the needle on diversity—or maintain the status quo through inaction.
One advantage of universities is the breadth of courses they offer, from introductory classes to more advanced instruction. Unlike many K-12 schools, universities can introduce students to computer science and develop their interest in the field. Higher education institutions can also help meet a key demand for DEI: urgency. Marginalized people armed with computer science degrees have excellent chances to immediately get jobs in the tech industry, helping to quickly move more of us closer to equity by altering their circumstances in two important ways. For one, they’ll possess well-paying careers that improve their economic mobility. Secondly, through job placement at tech companies facilitated by degree attainment, they can work to improve norms, narratives, and cultures from the inside.
While we believe more tech industry investments in higher education can correct the current course, they need to be done strategically. It’s not as easy as picking a university and choosing an amount. To codify diversity as a core value of the effort, three rules must be followed.
Read the full article about diversity in tech by Dwana Franklin-Davis & Kinnis Gosha at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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