National Science Foundation Awards Business-Higher Education Forum $4.5M to Increase Undergraduate Student Diversity and Persistence in STEM

Grant Will Support a Business-Higher Education Consortium and Create Pathways for Students to Attain Undergraduate Degrees and Secure High-Demand Jobs

Washington, D.C. (September 3) —The Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF) is the recipient of a five-year, approximate $4.5M grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build the Undergraduate STEM Interventions with Industry consortium (USI2) to address the unique challenges faced by diverse students as they pursue undergraduate degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). BHEF’s USI2 consortium will develop new programs and allow these students—many from low-income households—to obtain the critical skills and undergraduate STEM degrees valued by today’s workforce.

The USI2 consortium, a part of BHEF’s National Higher Education Initiative (HEWI), will be a network of innovative partnerships between higher education and business. USI2 will implement evidence-based interventions designed to increase student persistence and completion in STEM disciplines and produce a diverse, highly skilled talent pool equipped with the workplace competencies required by business. The consortium will work not only to raise the number of community college transfer students to four-year institutions, but also to provide the support and guidance needed to ensure their completion of an undergraduate degree in a STEM discipline.

BHEF academic member sites and their business partners include:

  • The City University of New York and IBM, focusing on large scale data analytics and urban sustainability;
  • Miami Dade College and Next Era Energy, focusing on information technology and cybersecurity;
  • University of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, focusing on cybersecurity;
  • University of Wisconsin and The Water Council, focusing on water science; and
  • Washington University in St. Louis and The Boeing Company, focusing on engineering.

“We are very pleased and thank NSF for recognizing the value of BHEF’s approach of strategic business engagement in higher education with this award,” stated BHEF Chair Roger W. Ferguson, president and CEO, TIAA-CREF. “I also want to recognize our multiple stakeholder partners in the USI2 consortium. Business executives have joined higher education leaders and others to support community college students as they transfer and continue their studies at four-year institutions. USI2 will expand BHEF’s National Higher Education and Workforce Initiative, increase opportunities for a growing population of diverse students pursuing STEM degrees, and prepare them to enter high-demand jobs and to embark on successful careers.”

Reports from President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and others indicate that less than 40 percent of the students who declare a STEM major go on to earn degrees in STEM. This attrition rate is at its highest in the first two years of the undergraduate experience, particularly for women and students from underrepresented minority groups. As BHEF began to address this need, it conducted additional research, met with stakeholders from several industry sectors and higher education, and realized an increased demand exists for STEM skills in non-STEM jobs. Through HEWI, BHEF creates partnerships between universities and businesses to help ensure there will be a diverse, qualified pool of applicants for jobs in high-skill, high-demand fields. NSF’s support of USI2 will expose more college students to STEM, help them persist, and transition to relevant careers in the workplace.

“Through this project we are supporting research on how industry-higher education partnerships can be effective in increasing student persistence and graduation in STEM,” said Susan Singer, who leads the Division of Undergraduate Education at NSF. “The work is focused on three strategic objectives in the Federal 5-year STEM Education Strategic Plan: enhancing partnerships with industry, increasing the use of evidence-based practices, and increasing transfer from two- to four-year institutions.”

BHEF has identified the transfer of students from two-year to four-year institutions as a key juncture that could significantly increase both diversity as well as overall STEM degree attainment at the baccalaureate level. The five member-led sites will focus on students transferring from community or two-year colleges to four-year STEM programs, and each site will independently test various configurations of industry involvement and will share results on successful strategies.  

BHEF CEO Brian Fitzgerald stated: “Led by our members, BHEF supports a fundamentally new approach to talent development and opportunities in diversity. Many community college students want to continue their studies after receiving their Associate’s Degree. Through NSF’s generous support, the USI2 consortium will open doors to innovative programs, help them secure their baccalaureate degree, and transition to the workforce equipped with the high-demand skills sought by today’s employers. We thank NSF for their confidence in BHEF and USI2, and our members and partners for their leadership in this groundbreaking work.”

About the Business-Higher Education Forum
Now in its 37th year, BHEF is the nation's oldest membership organization of Fortune 500 CEOs, prominent college and university presidents, and other leaders dedicated to advancing innovative education and workforce solutions and improving U.S. competitiveness. BHEF's business and academic members collaborate in regions across the country to design and deploy education-workforce solutions in the high-demand and emerging fields that are so critical to innovation and national security. BHEF and its members drive change locally, work to influence public policy at the national and state levels, and inspire other leaders to act.