America’s students are falling behind in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and it’s happening at the worst time possible.
We need the skills of innovators, but many of the students who would-be STEM majors just aren’t making it. Minorities, low-income students, and women have been left behind in STEM education and careers, and these stats take a look at the serious problem we’re facing in US education.
- Minorities often don’t complete STEM disciplines: Although students begin STEM degrees, they don’t always finish them. Nearly 70% of white students will complete the bachelor’s degree they started in a STEM discipline, but only 42% of African Americans and 49% of Hispanics will complete the same degree.
- Women are grossly underrepresented in scientific fields: Although women in the STEM labor force are growing, they still represent a smaller proportion than men. For example, women make up just 11% of engineering employees. Employment trends are even more variable in sub-fields, with more women earning chemical engineering degrees than electrical engineering.
- Minorities experience large gaps in honors course enrollments: Higher level math courses show a disparity in minority enrollments. 7.5% of white students took AP calculus, but only 3.4% of black students and 3.7% of Hispanic students took the same course.
- The District of Columbia has the worst minority gap: The nation’s capital has the worst gap when it comes to engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities. In 2006, its gap was -30.7 points, just behind California, which had a gap of -30.6 with 43.7% of the population, but only 13.1$ of engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded.
- The gap accounts for millions lost in GDP: A report from McKinsey & Co. shares statistics that indicate the gap is similar to a national recession. In 2008, the GDP would have been $310 billion to $525 billion higher if the gap between minority and white student performance had been narrowed.
- Most dropouts can’t pass Algebra 1: The US Chamber of Commerce reports that every 11 seconds, a student drops out of high school. Eighty percent of dropouts leave school because they can’t pass Algebra 1. Better math education is necessary for closing the achievement gap.
- Most middle school students are taught math and science by a teacher without a degree or certificate in the subject: Students are often not being taught by fully qualified educators. Sixty-nine percent of public school students in 5th-8th grade are taught math by teachers who do not have a degree or certificate in math. Even worse, 93% of the same students are taught physical sciences by a teacher without a degree in physical science.
- Very few minority students can read specialized text: About 1/12 white students can read and understand specialized text like the science section of a newspaper, but only 1/50 Hispanic and black students can do the same.
- Women often don’t complete doctoral degrees: Higher levels of STEM education seem to be out of reach for most women. Although almost half of mathematics bachelors’ degrees are awarded to women, only 27% of doctoral degrees are awarded to women.
- Very few black students are awarded engineering degrees: Black students don’t receive many bachelor’s degrees in engineering, and their numbers are declining. In 1995, black students made up just 3.3% of engineering degrees, down to 2.5% in 2005.
- US students are lagging behind: While the world innovates, US students are not doing as well as their peers around the world. American students are ranked 22nd for science, and 31st in math.
- Almost a third of students drop out before graduation: Three out of ten students in the United States will fail to graduate. This statistic has dropped for the worse for the second straight year.
- Girls don’t expect to work in science or engineering as much as boys do: In middle school, boys are more than twice as likely as girls to expect a career in science or engineering. 9.5% of boys plan for a STEM career, while only 4.1% of girls do.
- Minorities represent less of the country’s graduate school population than they should: Although minorities make up 28.5% of the national population, they are only 17.7% of the graduate population. Further, only 5.4% of STEM doctorate graduates are minorities. Despite these statistics, minority students express as much desire to pursue STEM careers as their white and Asian peers.
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Story by Larry Dignan