Increasing Graduate Participation in the STEM Fields
Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated December 2010
The report, Graduate Education: Backbone of American Competitiveness and Innovation, released in April 2007 by the Council of Graduate Schools' Advisory Committee on Graduate Education and American Competitiveness (CGS), identifies the need for U.S. students to seek graduate degrees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (STEM) in order for the country to continue to compete on an international level.
Where we are now
The United States aims to remain at the forefront of international competitiveness and innovation, particularly when it comes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). However, the National Science Foundation (NSF) reported some disturbing numbers as of late. According to the NSF, while the number of American-published scientific-research papers has remained about the same in the past 10 years, other countries have increased their publications by more than 30 percent. The United States is used to being at the top of the STEM fields, but is now feeling the heat as other countries invest in their graduate schools' STEM programs.
The report cites NSF data that show 79 percent of doctoral degrees awarded in the STEM fields by U.S. universities in 1966 were earned by Americans, compared to the 53 percent of STEM degrees earned by Americans in 2005. What makes these numbers more alarming is the fact that more than half of that 53 percent of doctoral degrees in 2005 was earned by temporary residents of the United States. Therefore, the report calls for citizens of the United States from all different population groups to get involved in studying in the STEM fields.
Some universities and institutions have created ways to attract more students from varied backgrounds to the STEM fields, according to the report. The NSF itself has pioneered four programs that aim to increase minority participation in these fields, including:
- Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate
- Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation
- Centers for Research Excellence in Science and Technology
- Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program
These programs have had a measure of success, but the report emphasizes the need for more such programs.
Women are included in the "minority" group. While more women have begun to pursue careers in the STEM fields through graduate work, they account for just 25 percent of the STEM workforce. They also account for less than 21 percent of the science and engineering faculties at colleges and universities. To combat this, the NSF has created a program called ADVANCE to attract women to STEM academics.
Where we need to be
The report suggests several different ways universities can attract more graduate students to the STEM fields, as well as ways business leaders and policymakers can help. First, financial aid needs to be stronger at the master's and doctoral level so that students can afford to study the STEM fields. In addition, too many "gaps" exist when it comes to minority students' ability to move on to the next step in their STEM education. The elimination of these gaps will lead to a talent pool that represents students across the board who can lend their talents to the workforce.
Both universities and corporations need to reach students and educate them on how a career in the STEM fields can be rewarding and interesting. Strategies need to be put in place by universities to make their STEM programs more attractive, and by business leaders to increase public awareness about the U.S. workforce's need for STEM professionals.
The report suggests that universities, states and businesses work together to show undergraduate and graduate students the connection between STEM studies and a great career. The report also calls for business leaders to recognize the achievements of scientists and STEM practitioners and to bring public attention to those achievements. Policymakers are encouraged to provide STEM professionals with incentives to champion STEM education.
The report makes it clear that our country is in danger of falling behind in the STEM fields. This is an alarming trend when it is applied to national security and the role that the STEM fields play in it. While there are many positive changes taking place with STEM field policy and programming, the United States still has a long way to go before its citizens can feel assured that its workforce is among the most highly skilled in the world.
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