Math, Science, and Engineering: A Better Career These Days?
November 30, 2009 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Researchers at Rutgers University and Georgetown University have just completed a major longitudinal study of how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students move from high schools to the high tech labor force. And guess what? The number of students graduating from American colleges and universities with STEM degrees is not a problem. Getting STEM students to stay in STEM careers is, however.
The report, called Steady as She Goes? Three Generations of Students through the Science and Engineering Pipeline, was put together by Lindsay Lowell, director of public policy studies at Georgetown, and Hal Salzman, professor of public policy at Rutgers. They examined 30 years of data showing how high school students with an interest in STEM progress through college with various degrees and reach the labor force, and basically, they blame the banks, investment firms, and law schools for the problem–without naming names, of course.
“Over the past decade, U.S. colleges and universities graduated roughly three times more scientists and engineers than were employed in the growing science and engineering workforce,” explains Lowell. “At the same time, more of the very best students are attracted to non-science occupations, such as finance. Even so, there is no evidence of a long-term decline in the proportion of American students with the relevant training and qualifications to pursue STEM jobs.”
“Despite decades of complaints that the United States does not have enough scientists and engineers, the data show our high schools and colleges are providing an ample supply of graduates,” says Salzman. “It is now up to science and technology firms to attract the best and the brightest graduates to come work for them. Our problem is not a failure to educate enough science and math students, but an inability to induce our most talented young people to pursue careers within our high technology companies.”
The problem seems to be money and competition, according to the report, which you can read here. In the mid-1990s, when Wall Street brokerage firms, hedge funds, and other firms started offering big bucks to the best and brightest in the STEM area, they were able to attract the top fifth or so of STEM graduates. Lower quality students have filled in the gaps, of course, and the number of students graduating with STEM degrees and entering the workforce has not declined. Tech firms have been complaining about the diminishing quantity of math and science graduates, and hence have been pushing for H-1B visas to get STEM students from overseas working in the States, when what seems to be more like the truth is that the tech firms are suffering with the diminishing quality of indigenous STEM hires out of college.
There’s a real simple fix for this: First, pay STEM students more to stay in the tech field. You can’t tell me Microsoft, Google, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Cisco Systems don’t have the dough. They just want to have cheaper labor and be able to spend great gobs of money on share buybacks and acquisitions.
After the economic meltdown that started last summer, maybe being a quant for a hot-shot hedge fund isn’t as bright of a career that it once looked like. Perhaps the tide will turn and more college graduates in the States will stay in math, science, and engineering. And maybe, just maybe, some of them will go on to create more jobs, not just look for one for themselves.