Not all FSU majors in science/math/computing are created equal: Salaries for bachelors’ degree grads

In a previous post, I may have caused some confusion regarding the State University System’s metrics within its performance funding program.  I’m writing this to clear up that confusion.

FSU struggles with three of the performance funding metrics:  percentage of bachelors’ degrees awarded by an institution that are in programs of strategic emphasis (FSU is last in the system at 39%); percentage of graduate degrees awarded by an institution that are in programs of strategic emphasis (FSU is 9th out of the 10 graduate institutions, ahead of only UWF); and, median wages of bachelor’s graduates employed full-time in Florida one year after graduation (FSU is 9th out of the 11 institutions).

However, not all majors that help with the first of these three metrics – bachelors’ degrees in programs of strategic emphasis – help with the salary metric.

Consider the plot below, which shows median annual salaries of bachelor’s degree holders in science/math/computing majors available in FSU’s College of Arts and Sciences.  These are national numbers taken for a wide range of ages in a 2015 report published by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.  And this point is important:  These are salaries for individuals who have not gone on to earn a graduate or professional degree.  It’s also worth noting that I’ve put Psychology in the graph even though that major is not included in the Programs of Strategic Emphasis.  And I’ve added neuroscience, which is slated to be a new bachelor’s degree program at FSU.  It’s clear that adding neuroscience will not help FSU’s salary numbers.  Biology, Psychology and Neuroscience are all below the average salary for all bachelor’s degree majors.  In fact, Neuroscience is listed in the Georgetown report in bottom 25 college majors for salary, along with Social Work and teaching majors.  Computer science, Applied Math, Physics and Statistics are all listed in the top 25.


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FSU’s closest competition at the bottom of the SUS undergraduate STEM ranking makes big move to improve

One of the metrics in the State University System’s performance funding model is the percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded by an institution that are in “Programs of Strategic Emphasis”, which includes STEM fields.  For the most recent measured year, 2014-15, FSU was last in the system at 39%.  FSU’s closest competition was New College of Florida.


Now New College is making a big move.  The public liberal arts college has broken ground on a $9.7 million, 22,000 square foot addition to its science building.

Meanwhile, FSU is still working with infrastructure for teaching undergraduate math/science/computing that is mostly 30 years old.  There is at present no plan to address this issue at scale in the near term.

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Self-satisfied Leon County Schools should look to Seminole County as a role model

A decorated Leon County teacher recently argued on Facebook that incumbent Superintendent of Schools Jackie Pons should be reelected because Leon is the best school district in the state.

The campaign for Leon County School Superintendent should have been about equity and excellence, especially in STEM subjects.  Instead it’s turned into a spectacle of mendacity, meanness and mediocrity.

But it’s worth taking a look at the issues of equity and STEM excellence, because they demonstrate why the self-satisfied claim that Leon has the best school district in the state – shared by many residents, teachers and administrators – is not even close to being correct.  And to examine those issues, we can compare Leon to the school district it should aspire to emulate, Seminole County.

Seminole County is just north of Orlando, and has a long tradition of excellence in math and science education.  But last week, another aspect of this high-achieving school district was brought to light by Emma Brown of the Washington Post:  Seminole County is a national leader in pursuing socioeconomic integration.

To see what this means, take a look at the plot below that compares Seminole and Leon Counties.  Seminole has a free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) eligibility rate (from 2015-16) of 49%, lower than the Florida statewide rate but higher than Leon’s (44%).  Yet while two of Leon’s five main high schools have FRL rates above 90% with all the others below 30%, Seminole County has managed to engineer a situation in which none of its big high schools has an FRL rate above 52%.


Does Seminole have to lower its expectations for students because of this effort to promote equity at the high school level?  The answer is an emphatic “no”.  While both Leon and Seminole have strong chemistry and precalculus enrollment rates (see below), Seminole’s physics and calculus enrollment rates are far ahead of those in Leon.  Teachers and school policies drive Seminole’s physics enrollment rate.  And the remarkable calculus enrollment rate in Seminole is at least partly the result of a district-wide high school graduation requirement that every student take a math course every year, no matter what the student’s level is.  As a result, most students who take Algebra 1 in middle school end up taking at least one calculus course in high school.


Nothing like Seminole’s math policy could ever be enacted in Leon County, where the words “science” and “math” were absent from the campaign, even though preserving arts education came up often.

As wide as the STEM gap is between Seminole and Leon, it’s the socioeconomic polarization in Leon’s schools that shouts the loudest for attention.  But as long as Leon’s parents, teachers and educational leaders think everything is just fine the way it is, nothing will be done to address the district’s shortcomings.


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The Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas shows that many Florida families are taking an economic beating. How should we respond?

While Miami Herald political reporter Mary Ellen Klas was writing the article “Recession still has Floridians reeling and anxious about election” that appeared today and and while she was collecting the reams of data that are available interactively on the Herald website, she was focusing on how next month’s Florida election results would be affected by the awful economic hangover that the state is still suffering eight years after the recession.  How bad is the hangover?  Consider this one startling statistic among many that Mary Ellen quotes:  Inflation-adjusted median household income in Florida was 7.2% lower in 2015 than in 2007.

But while she was writing, Mary Ellen certainly wasn’t thinking about how someone like me would respond to her report.

I see career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as the best elevator out of poverty for young people in Florida and elsewhere.  Those opportunities aren’t just for the top few percent of students, or even just for the students who go straight to a four-year college after graduating high school – although all of those should have access to bachelor-level careers in engineering, science and health care.  There are also places in the STEM workforce for those who don’t attend 4-year colleges, through 2-year Associate in Applied Science degrees, postsecondary certificate programs, and even high school-level certificate programs.  Nearly all students can break into the STEM workforce and earn a middle class income – if they are willing to do the work and are given the opportunities to do so by their parents, teachers and school leaders.

It turns out that STEM professionals like me can help more students find their way into the STEM workforce.


Many parents, teachers and school leaders don’t know how to give their students access to those careers but would like to find out.  And some teachers don’t have the tools they need to give their students the best possible learning opportunities.  Professionals in STEM fields like me can actually help with those situations.  For example, we’ve made some progress in Bay County.  But when it comes to preparing students for STEM careers, many Florida schools are doing poorly.  There is so much more to do.

And when those students make it to a college or university campus like mine, they deserve the best learning environment we can provide.  I’ve been a member of a team in the FSU Physics Department that has done just that – as pointed out in the last few days by a national task force.  And physics departments at some of the other SUS institutions are doing a great job as well.  But so many of the academic units in STEM fields at our state’s universities haven’t even begun to do the things we know will help more students learn their disciplines with understanding.

It’s clear from Mary Ellen’s reporting that the needs are enormous throughout the state, and settling for what we’ve already done or what is comfortable just wouldn’t be right.  I’ll be thinking about the rising poverty rates that threaten to cut off opportunities to so many children.  And when I get discouraged or tired, that will push me ahead.


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If you are a high school telling your college-bound students (and their parents) that you are preparing them for great careers, but they are not all taking chemistry, physics, precalculus and (better yet) calculus, then you are not telling them the truth…

…because you are not preparing them for almost all the careers in this plot of the top 25 college majors for salary.


Seventeen of these top 25 majors have the word “engineering” in them.  Physics is ranked 15th.  The list also includes applied math, computer science and statistics.  Even economics (two flavors of which are ranked 24th and 25th) requires a high level of mathematical skill.  And if you want to go into pharmacy, you’ll need to take physics in college.

So if you are telling your students and their parents that you are preparing them for great careers (or worse yet use the words “Career Academy” in your school’s name) and you are not making sure that all of your college-bound students take (and succeed at) chemistry, physics, precalculus and (preferably) calculus, then you have two choices.  First, you can stop telling people you are preparing them for great careers, because there is a huge gap in your program.  The second – and better – option is this:  Do the job you say you are doing and make sure your students head to college with the tools to succeed in the most lucrative college majors.

One more note on this issue:  If you are offering your students courses that have the word “engineering” in the titles but those students aren’t taking physics and calculus, you really need to confess it to a priest.  Now.  Before lightning strikes.

The data in the salary plot are taken from the report “Economic Value of College Majors” published by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.



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FSU’s undergraduate program in physics recognized as a national model in APS/AAPT joint report

Florida State University’s undergraduate program in physics has been featured in a new report on the future of undergraduate physics programs assembled by the Joint Task Force on Undergraduate Physics Programs (J-TUPP). The “Joint” indicates that the task force was a joint project of the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers.

The lead paragraph from the section on FSU’s program:

As a large research university, the physics department at Florida State University must balance competing priorities, including graduate and undergraduate education and research productivity, among a diverse faculty. A strong undergraduate committee and a focus on preparing all students for success have led to a number of successful curricular interventions that prepare students for several key transitions in the major, including entrance to the major and the transition to the upper division, and support students in developing communication and computation skills within the context of the discipline.

The report cites Susan Blessing’s leadership in making what the undergraduate program what it is today.

The full report can be found here.  The section on FSU starts on page 55, and the university was mentioned in several other places in the report.

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FSU may be preparing to build its last teaching building ever. And it will be a building for the College of Business.

Florida’s Board of Governors is doubling down on expanding online education.  And the state’s economists are warning of a sharp increase in state budget shortfalls coming soon.

So it’s quite possible that Florida State University is about to embark on its final teaching building project ever.  And that last building has already been selected – it’s a new building for the College of Business.

When FSU makes its annual presentation to the Facilities Committee of the Board of Governors soon, it will present three projects.  One will be the partially funded new building to house the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science (EOAS).  The second will be the renovation project for the university’s Student Union, which will be funded through the accumulation of many years of student fees.  And the third (and perhaps last teaching building ever funded) will be a new building for the College of Business.  The intention is to provide half the funding for this facility from taxpayer dollars, while the other half will be paid for by private donations.

The taxpayer-funded part of the new College of Business building will be something close to $50 million.  That amount would easily fund a new 80,000 gross square foot teaching building for science, math and computing disciplines.  Such a “STEM Teaching Laboratory”, which would provide the first significant update to the university’s science teaching infrastructure in thirty years and which has been contemplated for a decade, will probably never happen.

I could go on all day about what led to this misalignment of priorities.  But what’s more important is this:  The lack of new science teaching facilities will stuff whatever efforts are made to increase FSU’s capacity for educating undergraduates in engineering, science and computing disciplines.  And the university will remain at the bottom of the SUS ranking in the critical (funding-related) metric for bachelors’ degrees in what the BOG calls “Areas of Strategic Emphasis”.

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