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Why STEM Education is Becoming Increasingly Important
By C. Pocock Posted:June 9, 2013 1 Comments
Over the last few years, the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) have grown significantly. In the next ten years, STEM jobs are expected to increase by 17 percent. Non-STEM jobs are only expected to grow by 9.8 percent. Between 2008 and 2018, careers in computer systems design and related services are forecasted to increase by 45 percent. These jobs rely heavily on education and skills such as math or problem-solving. Other careers in biomedical, network systems, data communications, and medical fields are also expected to grow dramatically.

Higher Paying Salaries

Whym is STEM education important? STEM educated workers can expect to make significantly higher salaries over their lifetime. Studies have already shown that people with college degrees make 84 percent more income during their lifetime than high school graduates. More importantly, recent surveys clearly show that the actual college major greatly effects lifetime earning potential. Out of 171 college degrees, STEM majors come out ahead. For example, a person with a petroleum engineering major can expect to make $120,000 a year, and degrees in math and computer science earn as much as $98,000 annually. In comparison, degrees that are not STEM related, such as early childhood education and counseling psychology only pays $36,000 and $29,000 a year respectively.

The United States Commerce Department states that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields earn 26 percent more on average. In addition to having higher earnings, these careers are less likely to deal with a job loss. In short, individuals in STEM-related careers will have higher overall earnings and better job security than with those in careers outside the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematic.

The U.S. Education is Falling Behind

Despite the growing need for STEM degrees, the United States is not able to produce enough workers skilled in these fields. In the 21st century, 60 percent of the new careers that will be created are in this field, but only 20 percent of the workforce has the necessary skills. By 2018, the United States may face a gap of three million highly skilled employees. Many of the new jobs require post-secondary education.

The biggest issue is that American universities are not producing enough graduates with a degree in STEM fields. For example, only one-third of bachelor's degrees are granted in engineering or science in the United States compared to the total number awarded in Asian universities. Due to this, the United States is only 17th globally for awarding science degrees.

This means that the United States is gradually becoming less competitive in the global marketplace. A new study shows that the United States is 6th out of 40 nations in terms of innovation and competitiveness. To create this study, researchers looked at educational attainment, capital investment, funding for research and scientific research.

STEM Degrees are Left Out

While the United States once had exceptional universities, STEM degrees are being left out of the curriculum in modern times. Currently, the World Economic Forum lists the United States at number 48 worldwide for education in science and mathematics. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a ranking that placed students in the US 17th in science and 25th in math out of a group of 65 nations.

In 2009, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that just one percent of fourth graders and twelfth graders were in the highest proficiency level for science. Only two percent of eighth grade students managed to score highly on the same standard. According to the NAEP, students typically performed worse on these tests the longer they spent in school. On a test of basic proficiency, 72 percent of fourth grade students and only 63 percent of eighth grade students met the average. Only 60 percent of twelfth graders met the basic proficiency level. Compared to advanced students overseas, the advanced students in the US only ranked higher than Portugal, Mexico, Greece and Turkey.

Inhibiting Growth

The students who perform poorly in STEM fields during schooling are unlikely to become professionals in the field. This means that the United States has a reduced capability of performing the basic scientific and technological research for economic growth.

Thirty years ago, the United States was a leader in the publishing scientific articles. In 1981, 40 percent of the research papers published were created by US-based scientists. By 2009, the number of American research papers dropped to 29 percent. At the same time, Europe saw an increase of research papers from 33 percent to 36 percent. In Asia, research paper contributions grew from 13 percent to 31 percent. China has taken second-place as the largest creator of scientific research behind the United States with a total of 11 percent of the word's output.

In the United States, the lack of STEM education programs means that research and development is dropping. UNESCO reported that 83 percent of R&D was conducted in developed nations in 2002. By 2007, this rate fell to 76 percent. Out of emerging nations, China leads in research and development with a total of 1.4 million researchers. This played a role in the fall of United States patents. In 2009, half of the patents granted in the United States were given to companies based outside of the US.

Since the United States is falling behind in research, other countries are racing to become the top STEM nation. In Saudi Arabia, there is a new university for science and engineering. Russia is constructing a city based around innovation near Moscow. Singapore recently invested over a billion dollars in medical science to garner the world's most talented researchers. In China, new technology has been developed in colleges that place China ahead of the U.S. as the global leader in high technology exports. Overall, countries around the world have recognized that education and innovation is the best way to develop a strong economy.

In the United States, the lack of STEM education means that the United States is losing jobs. Harvard created a study in 2011 that showed the United States could boost its GDP per capita by improving mathematics skills. Over 80 years, math gains would raise the annual growth rate by 0.9 percentage points if they were met at the same level of mathematics proficiency as students in Canada. If the United States matched the math skills of Korean students, the growth rate would rise by 1.3 percentage points. This would yield an additional $75 trillion to the American GDP.

Creating the Future

Twenty-five years ago, the United States was a leader in education and graduation rates. Today, Americans rank 20th for high school graduation rates and 16th for college graduation rates. Luckily, some schools are trying to make a difference. The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) was created to boost the intellectual capital of the United States. It works to increase the performance of students in STEM fields by teaching and transforming education. To do this, they use the best programs that are already available to create quantifiable results. Once an idea works, it can be used on a national scale. Results are closely monitored for effectiveness.

Some of the recent programs adopted by NMSI include the UTeach program. Through UTeach, more teachers can become educated in mathematics and science. It also offers a teacher training program for current teachers that provides the resources necessary to bolster academic achievement. Other initiatives include an AP program and specific training for military families.