U.S. Lagging in Science and Technology Education

Vinay Singh

Study suggests a need to reform undergraduate science to add more STEM professionals.

This article published with permission from The Burrill Report.

The state of science and technology education in the United States has become a matter of great debate in recent years. Whether the issue is poor teaching practices, lackluster curriculums or a lack of pathways to science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) careers, the United States has seen itself fall from first-in-class to middle-of-the-road when it comes to STEM graduates. A new study proposes a set of recommendations for improving STEM education.

The report, entitled “Engage to Excel,” released by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, reveals the need for approximately one million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate over the next decade if the country is to retain its historical preeminence in science and technology.

Currently the United States graduates about 300,000 bachelor and associate degrees in STEM fields annually. But more than 60% of students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field fail to complete a STEM degree. Such a poor retention rate has the United States lagging behind many OECD countries, such as Korea, Australia and Japan, in the number of respective STEM graduates, according to a 2009 OECD Report.

Many students cite as reasons for switching tracks uninspiring introductory courses, an unwelcoming atmosphere from faculty in STEM courses, or the lack of pathways to professional careers.

Among the five overarching reforms the council called for in its report were the need to improve the first two years of STEM education in college so that introductory courses are engaging and inspiring, the need to provide all incoming students with the mathematical foundation they will need to succeed, and means in which to provide diverse pathways to STEM degrees.

Of course, improving undergraduate science won’t come easy, nor will it necessarily lead to more Nobel Prizes for the United States. The recommended reforms will cost roughly $75 million a year for the next five years to implement and most of the tab will have to be footed by private foundations interested in improving STEM education. But, the report says, these are all necessary steps to better position the United States and its future economic well-being.

Copyright 2012 Burrill & Company. For more life sciences news and information, visit http://www.burrillreport.com.

Increasing the retention of STEM majors from just under 40% to 50% alone would generate three-quarters of the targeted one million additional STEM degrees over the next decade, the study finds.