Students Lose Interest in STEM Education during High School


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A recent report from STEMconnector shows that students come into high schools far more excited about pursuing STEM education than they are when they leave. Research resource STEMconnector and college preparation partner My College Options released this worrisome data in January 2013. One of the most important pieces of information that can be obtained from the report is that 60 percent of students who state a desire to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers as high school freshmen will change their minds by graduation. In a future that depends increasingly on technology and demands professionals who work to create and maintain it, the idea that students are being turned off of STEM related careers in such high numbers during high schools is concerning.

The Future of STEM Jobs

During the next five years, STEM-related jobs are expected to grow twice as fast as the overall job market. By 2018, these jobs are projected to be up by a total of 20 percent. This amounts to an increase of about 1.2 million jobs from the 2012 figure of approximately 7.4 million workers.

Neither the current nor the projected future figures include the significant contingent of people who are self-employed in the fields. Self-employed people working in STEM fields made up more than half of the total of people working in these areas in 2012, bringing the 2012 total to around 15 million. They can and should be expected to contribute similarly high numbers in the future.

STEM Student Interest

The problem is not that high school students are inherently not interested in STEM education. In fact, one in four freshmen high school students states an interest in pursuing a STEM-related career. By this young age, there is already a considerable gender and racial gap, however, with more boys interested in the topics than girls and more Asians and Caucasians interested than Latinos or African-Americans. Earlier intervention appears to be necessary to address these gaps.

Student interest in the STEM fields has grown over the past several decades. However, if the number of jobs in the STEM field outpaces the number of students who actually pursue STEM careers, the technologically-reliant workforce could be in trouble. Losing student interest during high school, which is when most students begin to seriously prepare for their future careers, is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Losing STEM High School Students

STEM education has been the subject of many attempts to increase student interest and achievement. However, the STEM topics are seen as some of the most challenging and there is often a shortage of qualified professionals available to teach them. College professors are frequently dismayed by the lack of preparation students display in their introductory classes, thanks to the lackluster preparation many received in high schools. There is also a wide discrepancy between the preparation of students from STEM-focused schools and those from schools who give these topics less weight.

Colleges and universities are often the ones to respond to the need for STEM-trained professionals in the future. The University of Connecticut and Texas A&M are just two such universities that have launched initiatives aimed to significantly expand their STEM programs. While expanding these higher education programs is one step toward graduating more trained professionals, it will not solve the problem of students who have lost interest in the subjects earlier in their educational careers.

However, universities can be involved in the fight to keep STEM education interesting for younger students. Part of the program at Texas A&M involves working with high school and community college teachers to prepare students for entry into university engineering programs. The question of interest still remains, but at least students who are interested should have more opportunities to succeed.


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