News

Panel: STEM education crisis stems from unsupported teachers

By Meris Stansbury, Online Editor
September 14th, 2011

In the president's FY12 budget, $206 million would go to STEM training programs.

According to a panel of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education experts and industry leaders, the United States is still falling short of producing the number of STEM graduates needed to fill 21st-century jobs—and panelists said the problem can be traced to to a lack of support for teachers.

At a Sept. 12 Brookings Institution forum in Washington, D.C., Rebecca Blank, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, began the discussion by providing the latest data on the STEM workforce to help paint a current picture of STEM education in the United States.

The data, which come from a recent series of STEM reports published by the Economics & Statistics Administration, further confirm what education stakeholders widely know: blacks, Hispanics, and women tend to shy away from STEM careers, while white males and Asians are more likely to enter a STEM field. (For specific numbers and graphs, see the reports.) Blank said it’s not just important to encourage students to enter the STEM fields so that companies can benefit—it’s good for communities as well.

“Even during this current recession, STEM jobs are stable. Just in 2010 alone, 7.6 million workers had a STEM-related job, and that number is increasing,” Blank explained.

Also, jobs in the STEM fields have a higher average salary than the average salary of all non-STEM jobs, she said—referring to this statistic as a “wage premium.”

“In 2010, there was a 25-percent wage premium for those in STEM [fields]. And for women in STEM, that wage premium increases dramatically—which makes it even more interesting that more women aren’t in STEM jobs,” she said.

The conversation then shifted to why more graduates aren’t entering STEM-related fields. In other words, asked Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies for the Brookings Institution, “What can we do?”