I noted recently that Florida’s State University System has experienced a steep increase in the number of bachelors’ degrees it has awarded in the biosciences during the last decade. Bachelors’ degrees in the biosciences are distinguished by their low average career earnings – a bioscience bachelor’s degree holder who does not go on to earn a postgraduate degree can expect to earn less during her or his career than the average bachelor’s degree holder in a non-STEM field. The explosion in SUS bioscience bachelors’ degrees has occurred during a period in which the percentage of SUS bachelors’ degrees being awarded in the more lucrative computer, engineering and physics fields has been flat or declining.
The rapid increase in bioscience degrees in Florida does not reflect what’s happening at the national level. Nationally, the percentage of bachelors’ degrees being awarded in biological sciences was nearly constant from 2000 to 2011, according to the National Science Foundation’s Science and Engineering Indicators. Therefore, we can assume that the rapid increase in bioscience degrees in Florida results from education policy decisions made in Florida - in particular, steering students toward these degrees by emphasizing biology over other sciences in high schools.
Plots for trends in the Florida SUS and nationally are shown below. The time periods covered are a little different – the NSF compilation covers 2000 to 2011, while the SUS data are offset a few years. But it’s clear that the trends are different.
It’s worth noting that the percentages for physics degrees shown below are multiplied by 10. So the percentage of bachelors’ degrees awarded in physics nationally is about 0.3%, and in the SUS it’s about 0.2%.