The State of STEM in America

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Creating the next great technology innovations is crucial to the advancement of our society and the American economy.  Unfortunately, the American workforce is crippled by a lack of experts in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), which is what we call the STEM skills gap. Since this week is National Engineers Week, we’re doing a three-part blog series on STEM-related topics. In part one, we examined the fastest-growing STEM jobs for 2015. In part two (this post), we look at the state of STEM in education and the workforce. In part three, we’ll explore a program that helps inspire middle schoolers to become interested in STEM disciplines through exposure to actual STEM professionals. 

According to a 2014 report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), nearly all of the nation’s job growth between 2004 and 2012 occurred in STEM fields.  The number of non-STEM jobs remained about the same during that time span. And while the percentage of students earning degrees in STEM fields has increased over the past decade, America still lacks the trained workforce to meet the growing job market. Looking at measures of academic performance on a global scale, the United States lags far behind other countries.

The National Science Foundation boasts a wealth of data on STEM education and workers in the United States. We’ve pulled some interesting highlights from their online reports below:

Which States Produce the Most Science & Engineering Bachelor’s Degrees?

    • In terms of total output, California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, and Massachusetts were the leading producers of S&E bachelor’s degrees in 2011. Their total number of degrees ranged from 68,228 in California to 20,023 in Massachusetts.
    • Washington D.C. had the highest ratio of S&E bachelor’s degrees: 46.9 per 1,000 college-age residents.
    • The amount of financial aid provided to undergraduate students ranged from $16 per undergraduate student in Wyoming to $2,553 per student in South Carolina. Seven states averaged less than $100 per undergraduate student, while 14 provided more than $1,000 per student.



State Funding for Major Public Research Universities

  • Across the nation, state funding for major public research universities increased from nearly $25 billion in 2000 to nearly $37 billion in 2010.
  • Only two states (Colorado and Rhode Island) spent less on their major public research universities in 2010 than in 2000.
  • North Carolina, Minnesota, Connecticut, Wyoming, Hawaii, Arizona, and New York spent more than $20,000 per FTE (full-time equivalent) student at their major public research universities in 2010 – ranging from $24,402 in North Carolina to $20,075 in New York. Wyoming more than doubled its funding per FTE student between 2000 and 2010.

STEM and the US Job Market

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that, during the period from 2010 to 2020, employment in S&E jobs will grow by 18.7 percent, compared to 14.3 percent for all jobs.
  • About 59 percent of the projected increase in S&E jobs is in computer/mathematical science occupations. These occupations also have the largest growth rate (23.1 percent). Biological/agricultural/environmental life scientists and social scientists/psychologists (who account for a much smaller proportion of S&E workers) have the next highest projected growth rates: 20.4 percent and 18.5 percent, respectively.
  • The projected growth rates for engineers (10.6 percent) and physical scientists (12.7 percent) are somewhat lower than the rate for all occupations.
  • Health care practitioners and technicians, a non-S&E occupational category that contains significant numbers of S&E-trained people, is projected to grow by 25.9 percent.
  • Individuals employed in S&E jobs earn significantly more than the median earnings for all jobs. In 2012, median earnings for S&E jobs were $78,270, while median earnings for all jobs were $34,750.

Source: National Science Board. 2014. Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. Arlington VA: National Science Foundation (NSB 14-01).

What Does All This Mean?

  • Job seekers with STEM backgrounds have a huge advantage in the job market and can earn lucrative salaries through a STEM career.
  • If the US is to remain competitive on the global stage and meet the demand for specialized skills in STEM fields, it must examine international best practices and learn from what foreign countries are doing successfully.
  • Making education a top priority, engaging in public/private partnerships and entrepreneurial thinking are imperative to progressing the state of STEM in America.

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