Should we increase the number of Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) graduates?
Figure 1 (Rice, 2009): STEMing the Teacher
Figure 2 (McVay): Three research scientists
in lab coats meeting at
There is a Need to Increase the Number of
The U.S. must ensure a continuous supply of highly trained
STEM workers and a STEM literate population
in order to maintain
its global economic leadership [American Competitiveness Initiative, 2006].
There is a shortage of science and mathematics
teachers in NC, especially in rural areas [UNC Tomorrow, 2008].
There is a severe shortage in the number of highly skilled
STEM minorities and women graduates [Gilmer, 2007].
American Minorities (Asians/ Pacific Islanders, blacks,
Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaskan Natives) are expected to be more than
half (52%) of the resident college-age (18-24 years old) population of the
United States by 2050, up from 34% in 1999. However,
in 1995 the percentage of undergraduate degrees in mathematics and
statistics awarded to minorities was 18.8% and in
2004 it was 21.2%, well below the
percentages of the resident college population
Foreign workers make up an increasing share of STEM and Health
PhDs and jobs [Butz, 2003; Freeman, 2009].
There are not enough degrees to keep pace with demand.
One solution is to relax H1-B visa regulations to allow
more foreign professionals to work in the U.S. [Snyder, 2007]
Looking at the years 1975 and 1999, a young adult's probability of
obtaining a STEM degree has increased at a much slower rate in the
U.S. when compared to other countries [Butz, 2003].
Whether it is because
there is a shortage or a surplus of STEM majors, most researchers agree that
America's most talented students are choosing other careers and this will
be problematic for domestic innovation and for jobs related to national
security [Benderly, 2010].
There is No Need to Increase the Number of
We should focus instead on creating attractive career opportunities for
the existing PhDs [Freeman, 2009].
Encouraging individual aspirations is more important than group
disparities [Tierney, 2010].
The STEM shortage is a myth because shortages and surpluses resolve
themselves via market trends. For example,
shortages lead to increased salaries
which then leads more people to choose the careers, so there is
no need for any intervention [Rockwell, 2006].
Such predictions date to the Sputnik era, but none of the past
predictions of shortages have come true [Benderly, 2010].
The federal government might purposely be creating a surplus of
STEM workers with limited career opportunities so that they will
have an increased number in the
workforce for the Pentagon and other similar state
agencies [Rockwell, 2006].
From 1975-2000 the general U.S. employment rate fell while
the unemployment rate for some STEM PhDs rose [Butz, 2003].
There are highly qualified proponents on both sides of this issue.
Researchers seem to agree that some of the shortage indicators are
problematic, but they disagree on the solution. Some authors ask for
relaxed visa restrictions so that foreign professionals can meet demand
others advocate that we should do
nothing so that the market will resolve itself when salaries rise.
Some authors advocate for an increase in funding for
programs designed to increase the number of STEM majors and others suggest
that funding should instead be spent on
creating more attractive career opportunities for existing PhDs.
It is unrealistic to imagine a randomized experiment in various countries
where different approaches are tested or even a small-scale experiment that
would impact the choice of STEM majors, so observational studies
should continue, especially as new policy decisions are made.
I readily admit my own bias on this issue, because I teach STEM courses.
However, I am convinced that
our ability to compete and innovate in a global environment depends on a
population that is educated in science, technology, engineering, and
mathematics. I believe that we should increase the number of
STEM trained individuals while at the same time
encouraging and supporting diverse career opportunities for them.
I imagine a society where
more of our political leaders are trained in STEM, for instance.
STEM majors are creative, flexible problem solvers who can
contribute to society in many meaningful ways, so I believe that having
more of them will help solve our major problems.
- American Competitiveness Initiative (2006).
Archived: American Competitiveness Initiative.
Federal Government Initiative.
Federal funding for STEM was granted when the initiative was
enacted into law in 2007 as the America Competes Act.
The initiative quoted research from the National Academy of Sciences report
Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which is also known as the
The National Academies consist of committees of experts
who serve for free and advise the federal government on
- Benderly, B.L. (2010). The Real Science Gap. Miller-McCune.
Magazine Cover Story.
Benderly summarizes both sides of the shortage issue and examines
what points both sides agree are true.
Beryl Lieff Benderly is a journalist who writes a monthly
column on science policy and careers.
- Butz, W., G. Bloom, M. Gross, T. Kelly, A. Kofner, & H. Rippen (2003).
Is There a Shortage of Scientists and Engineers? How Would We
Know? RAND Issue Paper #IP241.
The authors explore
the concept of shortage via a variety of
definitions, and find that STEM graduates satisfy some of the shortage
indicators, while violating others. The article also
discusses strategies for addressing STEM shortages.
William P. Butz is the
president and chief executive officer of the Population Reference Bureau.
Previously he was
senior economist at the RAND Corporation and associate director of the U.S.
Census Bureau. Gabriella A. Bloom has co-authored 10 STEM articles.
Mihal E. Gross is a Program Officer at the Office of Naval Research
(ONR), with an expertise in Functional Solid State and Nanoscale
Materials Science. Previously she worked
for Bell Laboratories and
worked with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Terrence K. Kelly is a senior research at the RAND Corporation, with
primary research areas in counterinsurgency, security force assistance,
and nation-building. Previously he was the
Senior National Security Officer in the White House Office of Science and
Technology Policy. Aaron Kofner is an
Associate Statistical/Quantitative Analyst at the RAND Corporation.
Helga E. Rippen is the
Director of Medical Informatics at Pfizer Health Solutions.
- Freeman, R.& D. Goroff (2009). Science and Engineering
Careers in the United States: An Analysis of Markets and Employment.
National Bureau of Economic Research.
University Of Chicago Press.
Research Conference Report.
The authors explore
factors that correlate with the
supply of PhDs, including fellowships and the influx of
foreign-born doctorates and assert that the solution is to create
more attractive career opportunities.
Richard B. Freeman is the
Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University.
He directs the National Bureau of Economic Research / Sloan
Science Engineering Workforce Projects, and is Senior Research Fellow in
Labour Markets at the London School of Economics' Centre for Economic
Performance. Daniel L. Goroff is a
Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He is on leave from
Harvey Mudd College where he is a professor of mathematics
and economics who previously served as
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty.
- Gilmer, T.C. (2007). An Understanding of the
Improved Grades, Retention
and Graduation Rates of STEM Majors at the
Academic Investment in Math and Science (AIMS)
Program of Bowling Green State University (BGSU).
Journal of STEM Education, 8(1 & 2), January-June. pp. 11-21.
Gilmer summarizes research
showing a severe shortage in the number of highly skilled
STEM minorities and women graduates and discusses a program aimed at
entering Freshman that increased the average GPA and the retention rate.
T. Carter Gilmer is an analytic chemist
and director of the Academic Investment in Math and Science program
at Bowling Green State University.
- McVay, R.
Three research scientists in lab coats meeting at round table. Creative image #AA049520. Getty Images. http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/AA049520/Digital-Vision
- National Science Foundation (2006).
Women, Minorities, and
Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. Table C-7.
Federal Government Report.
NSF presents data and projections related to STEM minority populations.
The National Science Foundation is
a government agency responsible for promoting STEM
through research programs and education projects.
- Rice, G.A. & M. Young (2009). STEMing the Teacher Shortage Tide.
National Association for Alternative Certification. November.
- Snyder, D. (2007). Technology Firm Executives Say Immigration
Barriers Hurt America. Fox News.
Bill Gates and leading members of
other technology companies advocate an increase in
H1-B visas in order to increase the number of workers and
supply the demand in the domestic workforce.
Donald Snyder is a journalist for Fox News.
Bill Gates was the chairman and co-founder of Microsoft and he previously
worked as a programmer. He attended 2 years of college and
published an article in theoretical computer science.
- Tierney, J. (2010). Legislation Won't Close Gender Gap in
Sciences. Science Times. New York Times, June 15.
Tierney questions the creation of federally funded workshops
to enhance gender equity.
John Tierney is a journalist for the New York Times who writes a
Findings column and has been
criticized by some for his reporting.
- Rockwell, L.H. (2006). The Myth of the Math and Science Shortage.
Ludwig von Mises Daily. http://mises.org/daily/2051
Rockwell asserts that there is no shortage.
Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. is a political commentator. He has a degree
in English and he is the chairman of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
- UNC Tomorrow (2008). University of North Carolina Tomorrow.
UNC Tomorrow attempts to anticipate and identify
the needs of North Carolina as it
sets goals in order to proactively respond.
The team consisted of community leaders, public servants,
14 faculty members, and public input from almost $10,000 individuals.