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
1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
This private university was ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report for Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs, though the school also offers doctorates in the field. In addition, MIT’s faculty boasts several Fulbright Scholars and Nobel Prize winners.
MIT offers a year-round academic program through the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs for middle school students who are interested in math and science and want to get ahead in these areas. Through the STEM Summer Institute, middle school students are engaged for five weeks of lectures, projects, and experiments taught by MIT undergraduates. Seventh- through 12th-graders may now also join MIT’s newest free STEM initiative, Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy. Participants in all programs learn college-level material.
2. Tuskegee University
Tuskegee University is a historically black institution of higher education located in Alabama that enrolls more than 3,100 students. It is a noted school for minorities who plan to pursue an education in a STEM field. The university is a top producer of the nation’s black veterinarians, with Tuskegee alumni making up 75% of all black veterinarians in the U.S. The school also produces the most black aerospace science engineers in the nation and is the largest producer of black graduates with bachelor’s degrees in math, science, and engineering in Alabama.
Tuskegee is also a part of the Math and Science Partnership with several other universities, community colleges, school districts, and STEM centers. This partnership was formed to help Alabama’s middle school students achieve success in science.
3. Harvey Mudd College
This small, private, liberal arts institution located in Claremont, California, is well known for engineering, science, and mathematics. U.S. News & World Report ranks Harvey Mudd College No. 2 for the Best Undergraduate Engineering Program.
Mudd takes a liberal arts approach to STEM by including a common core curriculum that provides a solid foundation in math and science. Students aren’t required to select a major until the end of their sophomore year, and the school offers a choice of nine STEM-based majors.
Though the school enrolls just around 800 students, Mudd has made significant efforts to attract women into STEM fields to increase diversity. These efforts were spearheaded by the school’s president Maria Klawe, who saw a distinct need for more women in computer science. Since Klawe began her tenure at Harvey Mudd, there has been an increase in female computer science graduates.
4. Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University in College Station enrolls more than 50,000 students and ranks first in the state for student retention and graduation rates, both overall and for minorities. The university is also a leader in STEM education, setting a strategic goal in 2010 to increase graduation rates among STEM students.
The purpose of the 25 by 25 initiative is to increase access for qualified students to pursue engineering education. The goal is for A&M to enroll 25,000 engineering students by 2025 across its College Station, Galveston, Qatar, and McAllen campuses, as well as in its statewide engineering academies. This initiative aims to address a growing demand in Texas (and the nation) for more engineers. The plan to carry out the initiative includes growing enrollments at the undergraduate and graduate levels, improving retention of engineering students, and expanding partnerships with community colleges to increase the number of transfer students.
5. University of Connecticut
UConn is Connecticut’s flagship public university and enrolls more than 30,000 students. Several of the school’s engineering programs are top-ranked by U.S. News and World Report, including UConn’s graduate programs in materials science and engineering, recently ranked among the top 25 in the nation.
In 2013, it was announced that the university would receive a $1.5 billion investment to support campus expansion and generate jobs. The purpose of the proposal, known as Next Generation Connecticut, is to expand educational opportunities, research, and innovation in STEM disciplines at UConn for the next 10 years.
Goals of the ten-year plan include hiring 200 new STEM faculty; building STEM facilities to house materials for science, physics, biology, engineering, cognitive science, genomics, and related disciplines; constructing new STEM teaching laboratories; and creating a premier STEM honors program. Additionally, the proposal aims to expand the School of Engineering by increasing enrollment by 70% overall and growing the total number of STEM graduates by 47%.
6. Kapiolani Community College
The STEM Program at Kapiolani Community College (KCC) aims to improve quality of education in STEM fields through various outreach programs, one being the Summer Bridge Program. The program brings together high school students, college students as peer mentors, and college faculty to help students prepare for the rigors of college math and science. Program participants engage daily in a math prep class as well as an hour allotted for collaborative study. Upon completion of the program, participants may be eligible for a STEM research internship or a peer mentorship.
KCC, which enrolls more than 7,100 students each year in its for-credit programs and about 25,000 students in its not-for-credit programs, is a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s S-STEM grant, which funds scholarships to select students pursuing STEM careers. KCC’s STEM Program offers several student scholarships, as well.
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.