News & Politics

Minorities Earn Tech Degrees at Twice the Rate Top Companies Hire Them

You have to wonder why they aren't getting job offers.

USA Today reports that African Americans and Hispanics are graduating from top schools with computer science and computer engineering degrees at twice the rate that tech firms are hiring them. So why are minorities not getting jobs in the tech industry?

The running excuse has been that there aren't enough minorities graduating with tech-related degrees. But last year, African Americans made up 4.5 percent of graduates with bachelor's degrees in computer science or computer engineering from prestigious research universities; Hispanics made up 6.5 percent. African Americans and Hispanics each made up about 9 percent of 2012 computer science graduates from all U.S. colleges and universities, according to a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics. 

Only 2 percent of workers at seven Silicon Valley companies that released date on their staffs are black or Hispanic. USA Today used data from the Computing Research Association's Taulbee Survey, which includes 179 U.S. and Canadian universities that offer doctorates in computer science and computer engineering.

"They're reporting 2 percent and 3 percent, and we're looking at graduation numbers [for African Americans and Hispanics] that are maybe twice that," said Stuart Zweben, co-author of the study. "Why are they not getting more of a share of at least the doctoral-granting institutions?"

USA Today outlined a few answers to that:

One of the key problems: There are elite computer science departments that graduate larger numbers of African-American and Hispanic students, but they are not the ones where leading companies recruit employees. Stanford, UC-Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, UCLA and MIT are among the most popular for recruiting by tech companies, according to research by Wired magazine.

"That is the major disconnect," said Juan Gilbert, a professor of computer and information science at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

"The premise that if you want diversity, you have to sacrifice quality, is false," he said. His department currently has 25 African-American Ph.D. candidates. Rice University in Houston has a large number of Hispanic students.

"These are very strong programs, top-ranked places that have excellent reputations," he said. "Intel has been hiring from my lab, and they say our students hit it out of the ballpark."

Education is key, too. Google, for example, has "been working with historically black colleges and universities to elevate coursework and attendance in computer science."

Apple CEO Tim Cook also believes education is important, explaining in a blog post that education is "one of the best ways in which Apple can have a meaningful impact on society. We recently pledged $100 million to President Obama's ConnectED initiative to bring cutting-edge technologies to economically disadvantaged schools."

That's fine, but it still doesn't explain why tech firms aren't going beyond Stanford, UC-Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, UCLA and MIT to find staff. Justin Edmund, an African American designer at Pinterest, said the tech industry needs to rethink how it recruits talent.

"There's a lot of things that can be done to fix the problem, but a lot of them are things that Silicon Valley and technology companies don't do," Edmund said. "If you go to the same prestigious universities every single time and every single year to recruit people... then you are going to get the same people over and over again."

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior editor at AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.

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