Encouraging Students to Pursue STEM

Tim Goral's picture
Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Did you know that only six percent of high school seniors will get a bachelors degree in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field? At the same time, while many economic sectors are stagnant, STEM job openings will likely skyrocket over the next several decades. While so many are still looking for work, the U.S. is not going to be able to fill these openings. While only six percent of U.S. graduates have a degree in a STEM field, 47 percent of Chinese graduates do. There is no question that the United States is falling behind when it comes to STEM education. So why are our students so reluctant to pursue these types of degrees, and what can we do to fix the problem?

Unfortunately, our understanding of the problem is poor. We might gain a better understanding by comparing high schools that have a high rate of STEM majors among their graduates to those that do not. We can then compare their methods and gain some insight into what policies would encourage students to pursue STEM degrees. While we are able to track nationally how many students earn STEM degrees, most high schools have no way of knowing how their individual graduates are doing. Many high schools’ knowledge of their students’ performance ends when those students walk across the stage at graduation.

Such a problem extends beyond purely the issue of STEM; with the new focus of graduating students from high school who are “college and career ready,” the only metric we have to measure that is often how many students are going to college. This says nothing about how ready students are for higher education. The truly valuable information comes after students begin their post-secondary careers. How many students drop out of college? How many graduate within four years? Five years? How many switch from a STEM field to a different area? How many go on to graduate school? How many manage to keep a job if they don’t go to college? All of these questions have answers at a national level, but few high schools are monitoring the answers to these questions at a local level.

Individual high schools need to do a better job of monitoring this information. Imagine how powerful it would be for every high school in the country to have data on how well their students are doing after graduation. With the rise of the internet and the rapid integration of technology into the classroom, there is no longer any excuse for not monitoring the progress of high school graduates at a local level.

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