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Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds

“In order to effectively promote a diverse and strong 21st century scientific, technological, and engineering workforce, Federal agencies should expand or add programs that effectively overcome barriers such as educational transition from one level to the next and student requirements for financial resources.” --Public Law 106-525, Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act of 2000.

Individuals from low-income families are underrepresented in scientific careers, and have limited access to necessary science and math prerequisites at every academic level. Data shows that while half of all individuals from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25, only one in 10 individuals from low-income families do. Low-income students are less likely to take a science-oriented core curriculum, and less likely to meet readiness benchmarks on college entrance exams. This can be attributed in part to data showing that nationwide, between 10-25 percent of high schools do not offer more than one of the core courses in the typical sequence of high school math and science education—such as algebra I and II, geometry, biology, and chemistry. The College Board has observed that each year, hundreds of thousands of students do not participate in AP courses for which they have high potential, in large part because of “the lower availability of a variety of AP courses in schools with higher numbers of low-income and traditionally underserved minority students.”

Many high school graduates from low-income families go on to attend community colleges rather than a four-year school, and may continue to have limited access to the higher education and research experiences needed to access science research careers.

NIH defines individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds as:

  1. Individuals who come from a family with an annual income below established low-income thresholds. These thresholds are based on family size, published by the U.S. Bureau of the Census; adjusted annually for changes in the Consumer Price Index; and adjusted by the Secretary for use in all health professions programs. The Secretary periodically publishes these income levels here.
  2. Individuals who come from an educational environment such as that found in certain rural or inner-city environments that has demonstrably and directly inhibited the individual from obtaining the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to develop and participate in a research career. The disadvantaged background category applies only to NIH diversity-related programs focused on high school and undergraduate candidates.

Selected Reports

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