There are still an overwhelming number of occupations that require specialized skills and talent, but not enough qualified professionals who are applying for or filling those positions. There is still a movement to entice female students, minority students—heck, all students—to pursue an education followed by an occupation in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.
But interest in these fields is increasing, according to a new national report released by STEMconnector, a STEM information database, and My College Options, a college-planning website that uses questionnaires to collect data on students' interests and career aspirations. The report—Where are the STEM Students? What are Their Career Interests? Where are the STEM Jobs?—pegs the STEM interests of one million high school students in the United States and documents how their interest correlates with the STEM workforce to come in five years.
The national report finds that interest in STEM studies and careers has swelled more than 20 percent from the interest expressed by the graduating class of 2004. In 2012 there were more than 7.4 million workers in the fields of science and technology, and by 2018 there could be more than 8.6 million STEM workers, not counting self-employed people.
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Here are some other interesting facts to know about the state of STEM:
1. Interest might be higher than it has been, but it's still lower for upperclassmen than those in lower grades. The desire to study or pursue STEM majors or careers appears to droop the closer students get to graduating. According to the report, 27.9 percent of students from the class of 2016 are interested in STEM. About 25.2 percent of this year's class has an interest in those subjects, and in 2012, 24.8 percent of graduating seniors were intrigued by STEM major areas and/or careers.
"The problem for educators is learning to engage students," says Edie Fraser, CEO of STEMconnector. "By the time students have reached high school, we lose half of them [in regards to STEM interest], and we lose 80 percent as they move up the high school system. We have a challenge of keeping students excited about these types of careers and nurturing these types of talents."
2. Mechanical engineering is the most popular major/career choice for STEM-interested students. The most sought-after STEM work and major isn't in aerospace, electrical, or civil engineering, but in mechanical engineering. A little more than 20 percent of STEM students have an affinity for designing, developing, building, and testing various tools and devices. The report states: "Engineering and Technology interest are on the rise, while interest in Science and Mathematics has decreased over the past few years."
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3. Among minorities, American Indians have a significant interest in STEM subjects and careers. My College Options and STEMconnector find that American Indians are more interested in STEM studies than any other ethnic group, excluding Asians. Nearly 33 percent of Asians students are inclined to pursue a STEM education or career, whereas 29.6 percent of American Indian students are interested in doing so. The study also notes that interest in STEM has been rising among American Indian, Hispanic, and white students since 2011.
However, American Indians comprise a smaller pocket of STEM students overall: A little more than half of all STEM students nationally are white, 14.5 percent are Hispanic, 12.2 percent are black, 12 percent are multiracial, 6 percent are Asian, and 2.4 percent describe their ethnicity as "other." All of these groups are ahead of American Indians, which make up only 2.2 percent of all STEM students nationally.
4. Female STEM students gravitate to science. The My College Options and STEMconnector report reads: "Arguably the most concerning trend with students interested in STEM is the increasing gender-gap." Female students express an interest in these fields at 14.5 percent, compared to the 39.6 percent of males. What's promising, however, is that girls exhibit considerable interest in science subjects. Biology, the second-most popular STEM subject to study and pursue, attracts 24.7 percent of all STEM-studying girls, compared to only 6.3 percent of male students. Basic science, marine biology, and mathematics/statistics also pique the interest of females more so than they do for males.