Broadening participation at American Universities

“Broadening participation is a national challenge that requires national solutions” (

In both Sweden and the United States, there is a widespread understanding that innovation, research, and higher education is enhanced when there is a wide range of participants, both women and men, young and old and from different countries, origin and disciplines. In Sweden, broadening participation is an important aspect of the universities’ daily work. This can be shown through, for example, the notion of lifelong learning – where education is open and accessible for people of all ages – and through the universities’ widespread collaboration with the surrounding society.

In the U.S., the National Science Foundation, NSF, works with broadening participation in the academic fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM, and sees it as a national challenge that requires national solutions. They aim at expanding efforts to increase participation from historically underrepresented groups (e.g. women and racial and ethnic minorities) in all NSF activities and programs, throughout the United States. In order to reach this goal, NSF established NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) in 2013. This initiative strives to broaden participation in STEM fields by investing in the three strategies presented below. The budget for these investments will be around $20 million in 2020.

(1) The planning and the establishment of centers, alliances and networks endeavoring to address the broadening participation challenge;

(2) The synthetization and building of a research base for broadening participation in STEM as well as the diffusion and adaptation of proven effective practices;

(3) The support to stakeholders to identify shared goals and objectives (

Woman scientist working with graphite
Sofia Sabel/

The goals of these strategies are that they will lead to an increase in the number of women participating in fields where they are currently underrepresented; an enhancement of the student persistence among underrepresented minority groups; an increased representation among the NSF principal investigators from minority-serving institutions; an increased number of professionals from underrepresented groups in tenure-track positions as well as in research-supporting, informal institutions and organizations; and evidence-based research to test various approaches, especially collective impact-style approaches.   

The situation today
NSF’s biennial report State of the U.S. S&E 2020 concludes that the U.S. workforce within the science and engineering field continues to grow overall. The number of women and other underrepresented groups has grown in absolute numbers, but they remain underrepresented relative to their proportion of the U.S. residential population (see for statistics).

Nora Myrne Widfors
Intern at the Office of Science and Innovation in Washington D.C.