A Bold Initiative to Improve Undergraduate STEM Education

Outstanding science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is vital for the future of our Nation, as has been reiterated frequently by President Obama and many others.  But despite great progress in our scientific understanding of how students learn and how to improve educational outcomes at every level, our Nation’s 6,000 colleges and universities have lagged in adopting improved teaching methods and progress in classrooms has been stagnant for a generation.

Given that background, we were very encouraged by the STEM Education Initiative announced today by the Association of American Universities (AAU), an association of 59 of the country’s leading public and private research universities.  This initiative calls upon our premier universities to take vigorous action to improve STEM education.  AAU has laid out a comprehensive program that aims to encourage the adoption of educational practices that enhance learning and student retention in STEM, increase accountability, and develop incentives for professors and academic departments to improve the quality of their teaching.  This is a clarion call to transform the higher education culture with regard to STEM teaching.

This AAU initiative is the latest and most ambitious of a number of recent efforts to improve STEM education at the undergraduate level.  The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, through its Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative, is supporting its members’ work to improve teacher education in order to increase the number and diversity of high-quality K-12 mathematics and science teachers.  The Business-Higher Education Forum, comprised of leaders from industry and academia, recently launched a program of industry-university partnerships to improve undergraduate STEM education.  And the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, made up of industry leaders, just announced an effort through which companies will work with universities to increase the number and quality of engineering graduates.

We applaud this renewed commitment by colleges, universities, and industry to improve undergraduate STEM education.  We call on all four- and two-year institutions to join in this effort and implement the policies and strategies called for in the AAU Initiative: widespread adoption of the best teaching practices, attention to educational outcomes, and establishment of incentive systems that recognize and reward contributions to educational improvement.    

We look forward to the day when our colleges and universities will be competing as vigorously to provide the best STEM education programs as they now do to produce the best football teams in our Nation.  The country and our students will benefit greatly.

Carl Wieman is the Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Martha Kanter is the Under Secretary at the Department of Education

Joan Ferrini-Mundy is the Assistant Director for Education and Human Resources at the National Science Foundation

Your Federal Tax Receipt