Chances are if you are a high school or college student in the US, then yes!
American students, it seems, just aren’t interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)… and this is having a negative impact on the nation’s global competitiveness.
Take a look at these numbers:
- In September 2001, there were 4,012,000 ninth–graders in the U.S.
- In June 2005, there were 2,799,000 high school graduates.
- In September 2005, there were 1,861,000 high school graduates with plans to enter college.
- Of these, 1,303,000 actually entered college.
- Just 277,000 majored in science or technology or engineering or math.
- Only 166,000 will graduate with a STEM degree.
While the number of STEM graduates grows in China and India, experts are pointing to a STEM brain drain in the U.S. The rate of STEM to non–STEM graduates in the U.S. is 17% while the comparable percentage internationally is 26%. One example of the decline: the number of computer science degrees fell 27% in the U.S. from 2004 to 2007.
The problem is that STEM disciplines are increasingly important in all kinds of enterprises. Case in point: Nationwide Insurance was surprised to find that their single largest employment category was “technology,” not “insurance.” Nationwide had to import a whole department of computer scientists from India to Columbus OH because they couldn’t find talent in the U.S. According to Brian Fitzgerald, executive director of the Business–Higher Education Forum, “You can be selling insurance or manufacturing cars but almost every American corporation has been turned into a technology operation.”
Even good intentions are not enough. Just 50% of students who enter college to study one of the STEM fields actually graduates with a degree in the field. Yet, the nation produces 50 new MBAs and 18 lawyers for every Ph.D. in the physical sciences, according to the Aerospace Industries Association.
Efforts are underway to reverse the STEM brain drain. Calculus courses are often described as “STEM killers” so colleges are redesigning calculus classes to be more interactive and computer–based. The Obama administration is earmarking $250 million to hire more science and math teachers. Time will tell if these measures –– and others –– will stem the tide.
The change to calculus is likely a very good start. I know when I decided to go back and add a civil engineering degree, calculus was difficult because it was all theoretical and very little of it was rooted in something I could touch or could even envision as real. For me that was incredibly frustrating and made it difficult to stay mentally connected to the subject. My son complained wildly about science in middle school because it was all theory and very little application. Before middle school, he was thinking of engineering, now he is tilting toward the social sciences. It doesn’t help that the way his high school is now teaching math courses have turned them theoretical too by teaching them “holistically” rather than in a linear fashion and working in groups (including test taking). He still has two years and I’m still encouraging him to keep his options open but it is a battle since he has lost his passion for the subjects.
He is one student (an important one to me obviously) but my experience, couple with his experience and then added to these statistics make me pretty concerned. This has been a known issue in the United States for as long as I can remember. I hope the response is not yet another blue ribbon panel or study group.
“The STEM Challenge” by David A.Kaplan. Fortune. June 14, 2010.
“Let’s get back to worksheets” by Bill Costello. Japan Today. www.japantoday.com September 2009.