Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce Issues STEM Education Report

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Publication date: 
4 January 2012

Georgetown  University’s Center for Education and the Workforce issued a report by Anthony  Carnevale, Nicole Smith, and Michelle Melton entitled “STEM - science,  technology, engineering and mathematics”. The October 2011 report provided insight on topics such as STEM  occupations, wages, work interests and competencies, minorities and women in  STEM fields, and information regarding those who divert from STEM  disciplines. 

The  Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce is an independent  research and policy institute that studies the links between education, career  qualifications, and workforce demands.   The center promotes equity and efficiency in postsecondary education in  order to expand economic opportunities. 

The  report begins by discussing the debate as to whether or not there is a shortage  of STEM workers.  Some argue that the  number of Doctoral and Master’s degrees in STEM fields has declined as a  proportion of all degrees awarded while others cite the low number of  tenure-track academic jobs available relative to the number of Doctoral  candidates who apply for those positions.   The report finds “that the disagreement between those who argue that  STEM workers are undersupplied or oversupplied can be resolved by the fact that  large numbers of people with STEM talent or degrees are diverted away from STEM  careers either in school or later in their careers.”

The  authors offer the following arguments relating to STEM education and add  suggestions as to how to maintain the interest of students interested in STEM  fields:

In  schools, “we are too focused on preparing students for the next level.  Instead, we should focus on developing  curricula that put academic competencies into applied career and technical  pedagogies and link them to postsecondary programs in the same career  clusters.”

The  report shows that 65 percent of individuals with Bachelor’s degrees in STEM  occupations earn more than individuals with Master’s degrees in non-STEM  occupations.  Also, 47 percent of individuals  with Bachelor’s degrees in STEM occupations earn more than those with PhDs in  non-STEM occupations.

The  authors emphasize that students and workers, however, divert from STEM fields  for many reasons.  Whether or not students  are in the top quartile in math does not imply that they will choose to major  in a STEM field.  In college, only 19 out  of 100 students will graduate with a STEM major.  After 10 years, only 8 of these original 19  will still be working in a STEM occupation.   Many people divert from STEM fields because earnings are higher in  healthcare and managerial professional positions but there are also other  reasons for the diversion including work values and shifting interests.

As  the economic value of innovation has shifted, the diversion from STEM fields  represents “the broader reach of innovation beyond the traditional  specialization of bench scientists and engineers towards integrated networks of  manufacturers, producers, and customers across a wide array of industries.”

The  report also found that:

“The  changing nature of innovation also helps explain the diversion of STEM  talent.  The nation’s STEM talent is  chasing exciting innovation opportunities beyond the tradition environs of STEM  work into the burgeoning social and economic networks that define the modern  postindustrial economy.” 

Many  STEM workers land outside of STEM occupations because their STEM jobs do not  satisfy their social and entrepreneurial interests.  While STEM knowledge is highly specialized,  it is also transferable and has applications in many fields.  Core skills associated with STEM occupations,  such as critical thinking and operations analysis, also have uses in non-STEM  fields.

The  relatively open economy, superior economic and technical infrastructure, and high  salaries for STEM workers gives the United States a competitive advantage when  attracting global STEM talent. 

The  report acknowledges wage issues and states that wages for STEM workers are high  at all levels of education and there is a noted advantage regarding STEM  earnings in that the rate of salary growth in STEM fields is high.  As in other occupations, African Americans  and Latinos earn less than their White and Asian counterparts in STEM  fields. 

The  gender pay gap becomes significant over time “due mostly to the flattening out  of women’s wages while men’s wages continue to rise.  By age 45-49, men earn almost 60 percent more  than their female counterparts in STEM.” 

“Women  and minorities are a significant portion of the population – well over  half.  Failure to access the talent  within that population is both inefficient and wasteful.” 

Globalization  affects the STEM workforce in that US manufacturers are hiring engineers abroad  because of the high demand for their products.   Companies with job openings report not having the STEM talent with  necessary technical skills to fill their open positions.  These companies have encouraged strong  investment in education and training. 

The  report recommends that a strategy be implemented to address the shortage of  STEM-related competencies.  That strategy  would need to acknowledge that students with an interest in STEM fields need to  be nurtured to develop their talents.  In  addition, the strategy would also need to address that “we need to raise the  bar across the board by teaching math and science competencies to a wider  audience in a discipline-relevant, more accessible way.  Meeting the economy-wide demand for STEM  competencies is no longer a matter of sorting our brightest students into STEM.”

The  report concludes that:

“Our  education system is not producing enough STEM-capable students to keep up with  demand both in traditional STEM occupations and other sectors across the  economy that demand similar competencies.”

Scientists  must be representatives of the whole population and demand for science and math  competencies continues to grow since “STEM occupations are not just the impetus  for economic expansion; they play an important role in expanding human  possibility.  STEM workers and those with  STEM talent develop and design new medicines, build and design bridges and  buildings, develop new technologies, and increasingly control the way we  interact with the market by designing the architecture of our computers and the  Internet.”