Bachelors’ degrees in engineering, computer science and physics are among the surest routes to economic security in 2019 America.
Unfortunately, the State of Florida does a poor job preparing its high school students for college majors in those fields.
Florida high school students take physics at about half the national rate. Despite the state’s emphasis on (and financial incentives to high schools for) having high school students take courses for college credit, the state’s high school students take calculus at a rate that is only average for the nation.
Those statistics have consequences for the career fields that the state’s students choose.
Florida ranks 35th in the nation in the number of bachelors’ degrees it awards in science and engineering fields per 1,000 18-24 year olds in the state’s population. The state ranks 43rd in the percentage of the employed workforce that has engineering jobs.
As poor a job as Florida does at preparing students for the most lucrative bachelor’s degree-level careers, the situation is much worse for women and African-American students.
Women earn only about one-fifth of the bachelors’ degrees awarded by Florida’s State University System (SUS) in engineering, computer science and physics (this situation is similar to the national picture). While 22% of the state’s K-12 students are black, only 7% of the SUS bachelor’s degree grads in engineering are black. The corresponding numbers in computer science and physics are 11% and 4%, respectively.
This underrepresentation of women and black students among bachelor’s degree grads isn’t just a university problem. Florida data on Advanced Placement exams in calculus, physics and computer science show that the disparities begin while students are still in the K-12 schools.
I am doing my feeble best to change all of this.
I believe that all Florida high school graduates who are heading to four-year colleges and universities should have taken high school courses in chemistry, physics and calculus (or at least precalculus) so that if they decide they would like to pursue careers in engineering, computer science or physics they are equipped to do so. This is my ultimate goal.
I try to shine a light on this issue using this blog and the occasional op-ed.
I visit with K-12 teachers, students, parents and administrators when I am invited and when it appears I have at least a remote chance of helping a school or district make progress toward my goal.
In my day job as a Physics Professor at Florida State University, I teach introductory physics courses in the studio-style SCALE-UP format first developed at North Carolina State University. It is an economical format (as economical as the traditional lecture format) that leverages the power of social interactions among students and between students and instructors to improve student learning – and that improvement over the traditional lecture format is often dramatic. The emphasis on building social connections is particularly helpful for women and students of color, according to research.
FSU’s SCALE-UP program is now in its 11th year. The small group of FSU Physics faculty members who teach in the SCALE-UP program serve 250 students each semester. We don’t win awards or recognition, and we don’t make many friends. But we help students learn and persist.
Here is my resolution for 2019: I will continue this work – both the advocacy and my own teaching.
And here is the more personal part: I will focus more on enjoying and even treasuring the individuals who I encounter in this work and less on my frequent setbacks.
I’ll look forward to visiting with you in 2019.