Do You Want To Go To College? Do You Want To Complete College? STEM Matters.

There is more innovation taking place today than at any time in the history of the world.

With 52 years of watching a world go from land line phones, black and white televisions, no personal computing power, snail mail and automobiles getting ten miles per gallon to smart phones for everyone, television shows on demand, laptops traveling with you anywhere you go, texting and electric cars, I have found STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is the mother of most invention.

The next time you see someone downplay the importance of STEM education, pull up the UTah State Auditor’s findings here and you will find a compelling case for beefing up student performance in STEM.

Fortunately, Utah’s elected officials and educators get it.

In the last three years, the Utah Legislature has appropriated $30 million for K-12 STEM education. While the coalition of STEM advocates is wide and long, some pooh-pooh the importance of STEM and consider it a threat to their own educational priorities.

There are myriads of studies that document the importance of STEM education for today’s student. An increasing percentage of the overall job market demands STEM skills. An oft quoted statistic says that for every student who graduates with a STEM degree, there are three jobs, while for every non-STEM job there are three applicants.

Any way you look at the complexity of today’ jobs, STEM skills are increasingly important and in demand; not just for college graduates, but for vocational jobs and the trades, too.

The Auditor’s office analyzed over 50 million higher education student records from 1999-2004. The top three take aways:

  • Utah high school students aren’t prepared for college. 84% think they are going, but only 25% are prepared. We need to manage expectations better.

One graph really stood out at me (figure 2). 44% of students who took recommended math courses scored at a prepared level on the ACT (and the prepared level needs to be higher), but even more alarming is that only 5% of students who didn’t take the recommended math preparation were considered prepared for college math. Yikes.

  • There are various behaviors make it more or less likely that students will complete college.

Full-time students are more likely to complete college than part-time students. In addition, if you complete 90% of your course hours, you are likely to graduate. But if you complete less than 60% (lots of dropping classes), you are less likely to graduate. We need to tell students at the outset what behaviors will help get them to graduation. They need to know that the enemies of college completion are time and money.

  • Science and Math proficiency is critical for STEM degrees and career paths. Those with a 27 or better on the ACT were light years more likely to earn a STEM related degree.

There is a critical need to engage students in STEM at an early age, make these subjects come alive through hands on learning, take college preparation courses in high school and then score well on the ACT. Once they enter college focused on STEM degrees, we should help them succeed instead of “washing them out.”

STEM competency is a key indicator to college preparedness, college completion and graduating with a STEM degree.

By the way, 14 of the 15 highest salaries for college graduates are STEM related.

This data screams for the need for lawmakers to invest in STEM education. If we lose students early in math and science, they self-select out of the most lucrative career fields by the time they are in high school. Early engagement is key. That is exactly what Utah’s STEM projects and grant programs do: prepare students for 21st Century jobs.


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