Diversity in the STEM workforce is essential for expanding the talent pool and bringing new ideas to bear in solving societal problems, yet entrenched gaps remain. In STEM higher education, students from certain racial and ethnic groups continue to be underrepresented in STEM majors and fields. Colleges and universities have responded by offering precollege STEM programs to high school students from predominantly underrepresented groups. These programs have been shown to positively affect students' analytical and critical thinking skills, STEM content knowledge and exposure, and self-efficacy through STEM-focused enrichment and research experiences. In fact, salient research suggests that out-of-school-time, precollege STEM experiences are key influencers in students' pursuit of STEM majors and careers, and underscore the value of precollege STEM programs in their ability to prepare students in STEM. This NSF INCLUDES Alliance: STEM PUSH - Pathways for Underrepresented Students to Higher Education Network - will form a national network of precollege STEM programs to actualize their value through the creation, spread and scale of an equitable, evidence-based pathway for university admissions - precollege STEM program accreditation. Building on several successful NSF INCLUDES Design and Development Launch Pilots, this Alliance will use a networked improvement community approach to transform college admissions by establishing an accreditation process for precollege STEM programs in which standards-based credentials serve as indicators of program quality that are recognized by colleges and universities as rigorous and worthy of favorable consideration during undergraduate admissions processes. Given the high enrollment of students from underrepresented groups in precollege STEM programs, the Alliance endeavors to broaden participation in STEM by maximizing college access and STEM outcomes in higher education and beyond.
The STEM PUSH Network is a national alliance of precollege STEM programs, STEM and culturally responsive pedagogy experts, formal and informal education practitioners, college admissions professionals, the accreditation sector, and other higher education representatives. The Alliance will establish a formidable collaborative improvement space using the networked improvement community model and a "next generation" accreditation model that will serve as a mechanism for communicating the power of precollege programs to admissions offices. Framing this work is the notion that the accreditation of precollege STEM programs is an equitable supplemental admissions criterion to the current, often cited as a culturally biased, standardized test score-based system. To achieve its shared vision and goals, the Alliance has four key objectives: (1) establish and support a national precollege STEM program networked community, (2) develop a standards-based precollege STEM program accreditation system to broaden participation in STEM, (3) test and validate the model within the networked improvement community, and (4) spread, scale, and sustain the model through its backbone organization, the STEM Learning Ecosystem Community of Practice. Each objective will be closely monitored and evaluated by an external evaluator. In addition, the data infrastructure developed through this Alliance will provide an unprecedented opportunity to advance scholarship in the fields of networked improvement community design and development, the efficacy of STEM precollege programs, and effective practices for broadening participation pathways from high school to higher education. By the end of five years, the STEM PUSH Network will transform ten urban ecosystems across the country into communities where students from underrepresented groups have increased college access and therefore, entree to STEM opportunities and majors in higher education. The model has the potential to be replicated by another 80 STEM ecosystems tha More