STEM Index Identifies Progress in Advancing the STEM Agenda

In 2011, 2012 and 2013, I chaired the ASQ Advancing the STEM Agenda Conferences.  This was an effort to bring more awareness to the need for more STEM professionals and to network among educators and employers to improve our STEM education processes and collaboration with industry.

Since then, US News and Raytheon have teamed up to develop a composite STEM Index that includes education indices, AP test results, and employment statistics such as the number of STEM jobs in each of the STEM categories.  The components of the STEM Index are displayed so one can see which areas are growing the most and which areas are not advancing. 

The link for the 2015 STEM Index is:

Some significant facts:

1) The STEM Employment Index shows that the percent of STEM jobs relative to all jobs has increased 20% from 2000.

2) The job categories with the most jobs and highest increase of job are in the computer/software fields.

3) The number of bachelor STEM-related degrees relative to all degrees were on a decrease from 2000 to 2010 but have increased since 2010. Graduate STEM degrees have increased.  Associate STEM-related degrees from community colleges  have been level.   

4)However, the STEM Index shows widening of gender and minority gaps, especially when comparing percent of bachelor STEM degrees compared to all degrees by gender or race/ethnicity and test scores. Among minorities, there is a very strong increase in high school interest in science, a strong comeback from 2000 in interest in technology and level interest in engineering.  See this link for more information.

Disappointingly, high school women have increased their interest in engineering or technology only a little, despite the many outreach programs that are available.  However, high school men have really increased their interest in engineering, leading to enrollment growth in engineering colleges.  As a result, when the number of female and male engineering graduates are combined, women only make up about 20% of the graduation class; this compares to 18% in 2009. 

Women have responded to the call for more STEM graduates and careers, but have tended to migrate to the biological sciences where women have been long accepted, instead of enrolling in computer science or engineering, where in some fields they may be one of only a few women in a classroom.   Research shows a difference in the graduation rates of women and minorities across engineering colleges.  Engineering colleges with a more welcoming and supportive culture tend to have higher graduation rates.   In addition, sometimes when graduates enter the workforce, they find the workforce culture not as welcoming as they expected.   The following ASEE Prism article gives some examples of how universities are attracting more women in engineering.

We are not as far along in advancing the STEM Agenda as we expected to be; however progress is being made.  At some time, the cumulative impact of all the effort by educators and industry will be displayed in the statistics with a welcomed significant increase, more than we are seeing now.   We continue to receive statistics that show the STEM workforce is expanding and more STEM graduates are greatly needed, especially in computing and engineering.  To meet the demand for STEM professionals and to ensure diverse thinking in the STEM workforce, we need to increase the participation of women and minorities in STEM fields, especially in computing and engineering, both as graduates and STEM professionals in industry.  

 If you would like to discuss further, please contact me. 

Cindy Veenstra, PhD, ASQ Fellow