Among a growing need for professionals trained in advanced fields like cybersecurity and technology, experts agree that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education is necessary — not only as a cornerstone of national security, but also to sustain the country’s economy. In fact, President Trump recently signed two bills to promote and recruit more women into thee STEM fields, while back in 2012, President Obama made increasing the number of college graduates in STEM fields by one million in one decade a Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) goal. Obama chartered the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) to help meet this goal.
The idea behind this lofty goal put forth by the former President was that it would increase job opportunities for young Americans in fields that were and are increasingly crucial to the strengthening of the national economy. At the time of its inception, this ambitious goal was intended to produce qualified professionals for STEM jobs, which were growing 1.7 million times faster than non-STEM occupations between 2008 and 2018.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
But retention rates for students earning a STEM degree were far from promising in 2012, with fewer than 40% of students in a STEM major actually completing a degree in the field. By increasing the retention rates to 50%, the “one decade, one million” goal could produce roughly 75,000 more graduates from the best STEM colleges each year than current numbers. Through the CAP goal and additional initiatives created to support students and teachers in the best STEM colleges, PCAST worked closely with the U.S. Department of Education to prioritize STEM education until it held its last meeting in January 2017.
Luckily, numerous high schools are still ramping up their science and technology curriculum to help prepare America’s youth for the future needs of STEM. The Department of Education projected that biomedical engineers, medical scientists, and systems software developers, respectively, would experience the greatest increase among STEM job categories between 2010 and 2020.
To meet this career demand, higher education institutions across America have increasingly adopted strategies to attract and encourage students to pursue degrees in STEM disciplines. Many colleges and universities now strive, through methods such as providing grants and outreach programs, to be a great fit for students, “nerdy” or not.
Growing the Number of Women in STEM
Though historically women have been severely underrepresented in STEM fields, they are included in recent efforts on the part of many colleges and universities to grow STEM training and education opportunities, such as with President Trump’s signing of the two STEM bills. Statistics show a slow but steady rise in the number of women in STEM, including in STEM degree programs and working in the field. According to a recent study by the National Science Foundation, women earned 50.3% of bachelor’s degrees awarded in science and engineering, and over half of all bachelor’s degrees awarded specifically in the biological sciences.
In the workforce, while women represent half of the college-educated population in the U.S., they comprise only 29% of science and engineering jobs. Interestingly, statistics show that women tend to prefer different categories of STEM jobs than men, with the majority of women — 62% — in social sciences, followed by biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences, at a concentration of 48%. Specifically, many women are employed as chemists, environmental engineers, and chemical engineers.
Though women in minority groups have shown increased participation in STEM programs over the last 20 years, fewer than one out of every ten minority women were employed in a science and engineering occupation as of 2015. To combat this issue of underrepresentation, many colleges and universities now offer incentives such as scholarships, grants, childcare options, and more to women and minority women interested in pursuing degrees from the best STEM colleges.
The Best Science Colleges for STEM Students
In addition to its economic impact, significant efforts have been made to attract groups that have historically been underrepresented in STEM fields, including women and minorities — namely Hispanics and blacks. Reports have shown minorities are often underrepresented due in large part to a lack of equality in educational opportunities. There are numerous scholarships available for underrepresented groups who want to study in STEM disciplines. A few include:
- Blacks at Microsoft: This $5,000 scholarship is awarded to two black high school seniors interested in pursuing careers in technology.
- Gates Millennium Scholars: Each year, these scholarships are provided to 1,000 minority students pursuing STEM programs.
- National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering: This scholars program provides block grants to colleges and universities that in turn give the money to talented black, American Indian, and Latino students enrolled in engineering programs as part of their financial aid packages.
- National Society of Black Physicists: This organization awards scholarships to black physics majors in their junior or senior year.
- Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Foundation: Ten scholarships are available to high school graduating Latino seniors, college undergraduates, and graduate students with an aptitude for a career in a STEM field.
- The Center for Women in Technology: Scholarships are available to women at The University of Maryland Baltimore County majoring in computer science, information systems, business technology administration (with a technical focus), computer engineering, mechanical engineering, or chemical/biochemical/environmental engineering.
The Future of STEM
STEM occupations are expected to grow in the coming years, and there’s currently a shortage in the workforce for qualified employees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, biomedical engineers are expected to grow by 23% by 2024, a rate much faster than average.
Nationally, schools continue to experience a shortage of qualified instructors in STEM disciplines such as math and science, driving many superintendents and districts to consider financial incentives for STEM students who will commit to teaching after graduation, as well as significant salary increases for STEM teachers hired on by notably hard-to-staff schools, among other efforts to attract more STEM instructors.
Helping Students Discover STEM
Students who choose to pursue a STEM degree in college typically develop an interest in science and technology at an early age, making it important to encourage and help young students discover their passion in the STEM fields. Through efforts such as Hewlett Packard’s Catalyst Initiative in collaboration with New Media Consortium, STEM programs are constantly reimagined to bring a fresh look and an innovative approach to STEM education.
There’s also the nonprofit MATHCOUNTS, STEM works-certified and the recipient of two White House citations as an outstanding private sector initiative. MATHCOUNTS provides challenging math programs for the nation’s middle school students. Additionally, events like The White House Science Fair allow young students a platform to showcase their talents and achievements in STEM education, illustrating the argument of many that science fairs are still the key to innovations in science, engineering, and technology.
The growing need for graduates competent in science and technology, coupled with focused efforts to educate them, can help to address the shortage of a skilled STEM workforce population. Higher education institutions have taken note of this and continue being proactive and innovative in their approaches to STEM students and programs.
To determine the best STEM programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school’s commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 6 best STEM programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school’s ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category’s ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.