AIR Vice President says “S” should be dropped from STEM. Is he hatin’ on physics?

Mark Schneider, a Vice President and Institute Fellow at the American Institutes for Research, argued on the AIR’s InformED blog that bachelors’ degrees in science do not lead to high salaries, and so we need to drop the “S” from STEM and just focus on TEM.

Is he right?

While I was working up an angry head of steam over this earlier in the week, a colleague from the media pointed out that Schneider and I mostly agree on this.  I have often cited the low salaries earned by bachelor’s degree grads in biology as an argument that Florida should stop focusing its high school science program on that field (for example, see this Tallahassee Democrat op-ed).  Florida’s biology addiction extends to the college level – the share of new Florida SUS bachelors’ degrees being awarded in biology has exploded from 3% in the 2003-2004 academic year to 6% in 2012-2013 (while engineering has been flat).  Florida’s state universities are pouring resources into accommodating biology majors who ultimately have trouble finding work that justifies the investment.

SUS_degrees_pct

Schneider goes farther, pointing out that salaries for bachelor-level chemists aren’t so great, either.  While the recent study of salaries earned by bachelor’s degree grads in different college majors by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce lists an average salary of $56,000 for biology graduates (compared to the average for all fields of $61,000), the chemistry salary cited in the report is $64,000, a salary that Schneider doesn’t find impressive.

What Schneider leaves out is that physics is also a science.  Physics is ranked 15th in the Georgetown CEW Top 25 (shown below) with an average salary of $81,000.

georgetown_top_25

Those who know me will understand that Schneider’s omission left me pretty strongly perturbed.  I became aware of Schneider’s post via a tweet from @EdPolicyAIR.  I quickly fired back a tweet asking why Schneider had skipped physics.  The answer?  “Too small a field. Very little data in the states.”

Baloney.  There are plenty of data, if only one is interested enough to look.  The American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center has tons of it.

Of course, admitting that physics is a great bachelor’s degree field from an economic perspective would have ruined the clever little punch line for Schneider’s piece – that we should change STEM to TEM.  That’s the problem with clever little punch lines – they are almost always wrong.

Schneider’s dissing of physics along with other sciences is not a little thing.  This is a Vice President at the freaking American Institutes for Research.  That matters.  That must be addressed.

I just hope this issue doesn’t die here.  Otherwise we might end up with – as members on a committee I chair like to say – “all computer science and engineering, all the time.”

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