A backwards strategy on increasing the number of STEM majors

So this is a breakthrough of sorts:  State and SUS leaders have decided that somehow they have to prioritize the education of STEM majors in the universities – or at least remove the disincentives for majoring in STEM fields and educating STEM majors.

But with the chaotic policy-making on this issue taking place, there is peril:  If we simply offer incentives for students to major in STEM fields at the universities without requiring these students to prepare better for these majors in high school, we will simply be attracting more weak students into the difficult STEM majors.

Politically, this is the path of least resistance, since the university leadership can make this happen without butting heads with the already besieged K-12 establishment.

The challenge for university leaders is now to make it possible for their faculties to succeed in educating more strong STEM professionals – especially scientists and engineers – by requiring that all students attending the SUS institutions are STEM-ready.

I’m putting in the same old plots below – salaries for new bachelor’s degree grads, and the dependence of bachelor’s and STEM degree attainment of high school math and science course-taking.  It seems they need to make an appearance again.

If you’re looking for a political document, here’s the article on STEM-readiness published in the Journal of the James Madison Institute (the article in on page 52).

If you want something a little more oriented toward the education community, here’s the article from The Physics Teacher:

physics teacher

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One Response to A backwards strategy on increasing the number of STEM majors

  1. Doc Carr says:

    Paul, you just don’t get it.

    1) I haven’t seen “strong STEM professionals” in the charge being given to the universities. I’ve seen “more STEM graduates”. The legislature will send you more (unprepared) STEM majors, and your challenge will be to graduate them. Period. Worse, I suspect the challenge will be to graduate a larger percentage of them than you do now while spending less money and starting with the present crop of 11th and 12th graders.

    2) Your second graph (what is a degree worth) shows the core of the problem. Secondary ed degrees in physics and math are judged to be worth less than degrees in those fields, so the free market does its job and the talent is not in the schools. The result is students who are unprepared for the college-level math needed to be a STEM major. This single factor has a lot to do with why everyone doesn’t graduate with trig, let alone calculus. The other factor is K-8 math education.

    2′) Notice that recruiting good biology teachers might be easier due to the excess of life sciences majors. Is this reflected in high school classes and the majors that students choose in college?

    3) Compare the studying hours and working hours and promotion opportunities with salary and you will understand why engineers drift into finance. It is more than starting salary.

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