When it comes to producing new workers in the STEM fields, the United States falls well behind other advanced countries, a new report finds. So, what is STEM and why is this important? STEM is a US Government acronym for the fields of study in the categories of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Why are these falling numbers a problem? Well, per Ronald Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, research has shown that innovation in a country’s economy is dependent upon how many workers have degrees in these fields.
Recently, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development analyzed education rates in its member countries and found that the U.S. is below average in the relative number of 25 to 34 year old workers, falling just behind Turkey and Spain and right in front of Iceland. To put this number in perspective, there are about 1,472 math and science grads for every 100,000 employed 25 to 34 year olds in the United States, compared to more than 3,555 in Korea, according to the OECD figures based on 2009 data.
Why does the US have less workers in these fields? It’s certainly not for a lack of available jobs. There are many sides to this problem. First, many young students feel that they can make more money with a degree in other fields such as business or finance. Also, today’s students may not be getting the exposure to the math and science fields due to college graduates from those fields finding better paying work outside of teaching. Finally, students struggle to find role models in math and science departments.
How does this apply to Long Island? Well, even as Long Island positions itself as a science and technology hub – touting resources like Cold Spring Harbor and Brookhaven National laboratories, it faces two major challenges. First is the well publicized “brain drain”, as students take their degrees to more affordable pastures. The second issue coincides with the national problem: According to a January 2010 study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, titled “Degrees of Success: Bachelor Degree Completion Rates Among Initial STEM Majors,” some 40 percent of college students who pursue STEM studies either drop out, change majors or otherwise fail to achieve a STEM degree.
Why are LI students dropping out? There are two theories. The first is that high school teachers do not adequately prepare students for the intense STEM-level work. The second is that STEM jobs just aren’t as “sexy” as jobs like becoming a doctor, lawyer, athlete, fashion designer, etc.
What can we do as professionals and parents to help turn the tide? Stay tuned for next week’s blog on what LI leaders and President Obama are suggesting to get students excited and prepared for a career in STEM fields.