While some see STEM as merely an abbreviated acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, these subjects are much, much more. Of critical importance to our state, the nation and to students who will need to find a place in a rapidly evolving workforce, the study of these subjects is paramount to our future success -- both educationally as well as economically.
STEM schools do more than just emphasize science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They're places where teachers and students are exploring the connections among all four of those disciplines. They're places where students are engaged in learning in ways that force them to think for themselves, to solve problems that connect to the real world -- whether that be across town or around the globe.
Why is STEM important?
Jobs requiring a STEM background are driving the economy, in North Carolina as in the nation. STEM job growth has been three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs over the last 10 years. And throughout the next decade, STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent, compared to a 9.8-percent growth rate for other occupations.
But the data shows dismaying gaps in the workforce/training equation:
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that of the 2.6 million unfilled jobs in May 2010, many were STEM jobs in healthcare, aerospace, advanced metalwork, advanced precision manufacturing, advanced engine repair/maintenance, scientific laboratory occupations, information technology manufacturing, and computer-related design, manufacturing, and maintenance.
- Eight million STEM job openings are expected by the year 2018. Yet currently, only 17 percent of high school students are graduating with the demonstrated interest and math skills to begin a STEM college major, and only half of them will actually complete a STEM degree. Case in point: Nationwide, only 10 percent of the class of 2010 took an AP test in math, and only 10 percent took an AP test in any branch of science.
- Minority students and first-generation college-going students are dramatically under-represented in STEM training and jobs. This is more than just a diversity and equity issue; it's an economic one, given the shifting demographics of the country.
- Local school officials, because a commitment to STEM schools, programs and teachers should come from the top and be district-wide;
- State and local school boards, because they have to power to fund STEM schools and STEM programs;
- Community college leaders, because many STEM jobs require a two-year degree or job-specific training;
- Colleges of education, because they control the curriculum that prepares tomorrow's science and math teachers;
- University officials, because too few students select STEM majors, and the attrition rate is high for those who do;
- And private industry, because virtually all companies today have a need for some STEM workers in order to make consistent profits.