STEM Challenges

I recently received a flyer from the Office of Naval Research advertising the Naval STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Forum, that highlighted 12 points of dubious distinction regarding STEM education in the U.S. This flyer listed 12 “facts” that contributed to the shortage of STEM graduates from U.S. colleges and universities. (I have added a few notes to some of these, thanks in part to a list compiled by Prof. Anna Endreny of Syracuse University.) While we do somewhat better than the national average in STEM preparation at Ohio State, it is still an area of national concern and hence it concerns us as well. The Office of Academic Affairs is convening an advisory effort, through the Office of Undergraduate Education, that will enlist representatives from all of our colleges, and several important OSU partners, to do an assessment of where we are and what we might do to respond to this “crisis”. I am repeating this list below, with the appropriate references:

1. Jobs requiring math are increasing four times faster than overall job growth (Program for International Student Assessment test, 2004). (Note: Many job openings will not be filled by United States citizens (Business-Higher Education Forum 2005). However, foreign STEM graduates are working less in the United States due to increased immigration regulations and increased resources in their countries of origin.)

2. Only 33% of eighth graders are interested in STEM majors and careers and only 6% of high school seniors will get a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field.

3. Only 18% of high school seniors are rated as science proficient and 33% as math proficient (Digest of Education Statistics, 2009).

4. 30% of high school mathematics students and 60% of high school physical sciences students have a teacher who did not major in that subject or is not certified to teach it (National Center for Education Statistics). (Note: Some projections exist that indicate that 280,000 new math and science teachers will be needed by 2015.)

5. The U.S. is ranked 27th (out of 29) for the rate of STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded in developed countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2009), 6% of undergraduates major in engineering in U.S. compared with 12% in Europe, 20% in Singapore, and 40% in China (Rising above the Gathering Storm). (Note: The U.S. was classified as “statistically below OECD average” in both science knowledge and mathematics in the 2006 PISA survey of 400,000 15-years-old students in 57 countries.)

6. In 2007, men earned a majority of bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering, computer sciences and physics, (81%, 81%, and 79%, respectively) (National Center for Education Statistics).

7. Undergraduate programs in science and engineering report the lowest retention rates among all academic disciplines, with fewer than half of undergraduates who entered college intending to major in a STEM field and completing a degree in one of those subjects (National Center for Education Statistics and National Science Board). (Note: Less than 40% of students intending to major in STEM fields upon college entrance actually complete a degree in these fields. For underrepresented minorities the rate is below 25%.)

8. Students with bachelor’s degrees in engineering had the highest average starting salary offers compared with students with bachelor’s degrees in other subjects (National Asso- ciation of Colleges and Employers). The median salary of STEM workers is more than double the median salary of the total U.S. Workforce (NSF, 2010).

9. More S&P 500 CEOs obtained their undergraduate degrees in engineering than in any other field (“2004 CEO Study: A statistical Snapshot of Leading CEOs,” 2005).

10. 89% of middle school students would rather do their chores than their math homework (Raytheon Survey, 2010).

11. More than 30% of current DoD Science and Technology professionals are expected to retire by 2020 (Seng, Institute for Defense Analysis, 2009). For security reasons, DoN must rely on U.S. citizens for classified technology work, which presents a unique challenge. Half of all engineers in the U.S. will retire with the baby-boom generation (U.S. Congress, 2006).

12. Scientific innovation has produced roughly half of all US economic growth over the past 50 years (NSF, 2004).

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