NEW YORK—Olatunde Branche, a 31-year-old zoology student at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., was ready to abandon his quest for a Ph.D. because of the cost. Then a professor showed him a magazine advertisement that described a minority fellowship program at Rutgers University.

Four years later, Branche is within a few months of receiving his doctoral degree. "That program provided me with the money and the incentive," said Branche, who came to the United States seven years ago from West Africa.

Only 10,303 of the 334,500 scientists in the United States with Ph.D.s are black or Hispanic, according to recent figures from the National Science Foundation. That 3 percent share not only falls well below their numbers in the overall population, but it may be shrinking: between 1981 and 1985, according to a survey from the National Research Council, those two minority groups received just 2.6 percent of the...

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