The Future Is Bright for Black Math and Statistic Majors

Math and statistics majors are problem solvers. They study algebra, calculus, geometry, and the various equations needed to solve problems. They also learn how to think and apply that foundation to an array of larger, more complex problems. Mathematician and HBCU alumna Katherine Johnson once said, “We will always have STEM with us… there will always be science, engineering, and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics.” This means that math-related careers will never be obsolete.

Depending on where you study, you may major in mathematics, statistics, or applied mathematics. One way to describe the difference between general mathematics and applied mathematics is that applied mathematics is math put to practical use, such as in the film Hidden Figures, while pure mathematics is more of what you might see in films such as Good Will Hunting or A Beautiful Mind.


spellman students at whiteboard doing math

Spelman College

The Need for More Black Americans in Math and STEM Fields

The underrepresentation of Black students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, particularly in mathematics, is a pressing issue in need of immediate attention. According to an authoritative report, the proportion of bachelor’s degrees in math awarded to Black students declined from 7% to 4% between 2001 and 2016.

Current Challenges

Statistically, this phenomenon can be traced well back into the grade school years. The families who encourage their children to pursue STEM subjects, through (often expensive) camps and other enrichment programs, are overwhelmingly upper-middle to wealthy class White, Asian, and Asian-American. Conversely, underrepresented groups tend to live in lower-income communities — often due to systemic and generational income inequities — where math and STEM enrichment opportunities are either less available or less accessible.

There are other pieces to this highly problematic puzzle, however, including the following factors:

  • Institutional barriers resulting in fewer role models. As of 2019, only about a dozen Black mathematicians were among the nearly 2,000 tenured faculty members in the nation’s top 50 math departments. This means college students aren’t getting the benefit of the very role models who can most effectively encourage them to complete a math degree program.
  • Microaggressions and implicit bias. Black mathematicians — to say nothing of young impressionable Black students who have an aptitude for mathematics — often face subtle forms of discrimination and bias that can make academic environments unwelcoming.
  • Policy limitations. The decline in specific programs and policies that consider race in admissions, recruitment, and retention in higher education has been noted as a factor in the falling numbers of Black students in math and STEM programs.

Why Representation Matters

It’s essential that more African American students get the encouragement and resources they need to drive proportional racial representation in mathematics fields. This is true for many important reasons, including the following:

  • Diversity of thought. A racially and culturally rich workforce of mathematicians brings an invaluable variety of perspectives to problem-solving, enriching related fields with innovative solutions.
  • Social equity. Increasing the number of Black math majors can help address systemic inequalities that have historically marginalized Black communities in academia.
  • Economic benefits. Because many STEM careers can be significantly more lucrative than those in other disciplines, getting a mathematics degree is an excellent foundation for the upward economic mobility of Black Americans. Further, a more diverse workforce is better equipped to meet the challenges of a global economy, and it opens doors for other communities that have been historically underrepresented in well-paying STEM jobs.
  • Role models. Having more Black professors in mathematics can serve as inspiration and provide mentorship for younger Black students considering a career in STEM.

In short, increasing the number of Black math majors is not just a matter of social justice; it’s a necessity for the advancement of the field. Universities, policymakers, and communities need to collaborate to break down the barriers that Black students face in pursuing mathematics at the collegiate level.

HBCUs Can Help You Start a Career in Mathematics

Given the recent Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in college admissions, more Black students are likely to turn to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for their education. In response, these institutions will do everything they can to meet increased student demand. HBCUs help more students earn college degrees — including those in STEM majors — and compete successfully for well-paying jobs in competitive career fields. Today, 25% of African American graduates with STEM degrees come from HBCUs, which helps to improve workforce diversity and increase upward economic mobility.

People of all ages, races, and life paths can help to improve diversity in American mathematics disciplines by supporting scholarships and other forms of funding for HBCUs with related programs. You can make a difference in the lives of mathematics students in one easy step by making a donation today.

Careers for Math and Statistics Majors

Students armed with a degree in math or statistics can work in a variety of careers and industries. Their skills and knowledge enable them to work in education, but also translate well in industries ranging from computer science to finance to biotech. The list of options is extensive and includes:

  • Accountant
  • Actuary
  • Analyst
  • Auditor
  • Architect
  • Biomathematician
  • Cryptographer
  • Engineer
  • Environmental Mathematician
  • Mathematical Scientist or Research Analyst
  • Numerical Analyst
  • Operations Research Analyst
  • Topologist

Whatever your interest, students who plan to pursue careers in this field will need to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program in math or statistics. Such programs include a wide range of related course subjects, such as:

  • Foundations of math
  • Differential equations
  • Calculus
  • Number theory
  • Complex variables
  • Linear algebra
  • Math structure for computer science
  • Modern geometry
  • Mathematical statistics
  • Probability and statistics
  • Real analysis
  • Actuarial studies

Want to learn more about math or statistics? Have questions about which UNCF colleges and universities offer these programs? Looking for help with financing this degree?

Click Here so We can Help You!

Preparing for Success

Good candidates for math or statistics majors are those students who enjoyed and performed well in high school math classes, particularly in higher-level and advanced placement courses. Because mathematics is a fairly broad field, with topics ranging from trigonometry to number theory, students should have an affinity for the breadth of the major, or at least an interest in its many forms.

spellman students at whiteboard doing math

UNCF Schools to Consider

These highly ranked UNCF-member schools (and more) offer programs for students wishing to work in the field of math and statistics:

Professional Organizations

There are many organizations in various fields of mathematics and statistics that can offer more insight into working in those fields. A sample list includes:

black women in science and engineering logo

Scholarships Available

There’s no better way to start on your path toward a successful career as a mathematician than with a solid financial foundation. Fortunately, many scholarships are available through UNCF, including some specifically for math majors. Keep an eye on the UNCF website for current scholarship opportunities and announcements. 

Search for specific scholarships and view those that are currently accepting applications here! Students should also check with each college or university to see if there are additional scholarships available to study math.

As you explore your options, be sure to use our guide to applying for scholarships and grants. You can also receive guidance by submitting a major interest form if you are interested in a career in math. Submit the form on our website to get started. And follow us on UNCF social media channels to receive notifications about our scholarships and member HBCUs. Reach out today!

You can also show your support for students pursuing careers and furthering equity in math and statistics by contributing to UNCF member schools. Education is the greatest tool we have in creating a just and equitable society where economic mobility is available to all. Help us achieve this future by donating today!