One Decade, One Million more STEM Graduates

Last week, the Obama Administration announced that increasing the number of students who receive undergraduate degrees in  science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) by 1 million over the next decade has been formally designated as a Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) goal—one of a limited number of such articulated goals designed to focus cross-agency coordination and encourage sharing of best practices among agencies with complementary missions. The announcement signals a concrete step toward addressing recommendations made earlier this year by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in a report to the President entitled “Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

President Obama has said time and again that science and innovation are key components of a strong American economy and that increasing opportunities for young Americans to gain STEM skills can both create jobs and enhance our national competitiveness. The Department of Commerce estimates that STEM occupations will grow 1.7 times faster than non-STEM occupations over the period from 2008 - 2018. In order to meet these workforce needs, the United States will need approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than are projected to graduate over the next decade.

Achieving this ambitious increase will require collaboration and investments by the Federal Government, academia, industry, foundations, and other partners in the education community. It will also require concerted focus on the retention of STEM majors during the initial years of college because, today, fewer than 40 percent of students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field complete a STEM degree.

Increasing the retention of STEM majors to just 50 percent would generate approximately three-quarters of the targeted 1 million additional STEM graduates over the next decade - adding approximately 75,000 more STEM graduates with bachelor or associate degrees each year.

Much work is already underway in the STEM education community to reduce attrition from the cohort of American STEM majors and achieve the Administration’s one-million-in-one-decade vision. Building on that work, the new CAP goal proposes to focus efforts in five promising areas of opportunity:

  • Identifying and implementing evidence-based practices to improve STEM teaching and to attract students to STEM courses
  • Providing more opportunities for students to engage in meaningful  STEM activities through research experiences, especially in their first two years of college;
  • Addressing the mathematics preparation gap that students face when they arrive at college, using evidence-based practices that generate improved results;
  • Providing educational opportunities and supports for women and historically underrepresented minorities; and
  • Identifying and supporting innovation in higher education.

The Federal Government cannot address these challenges alone. That’s why the CAP goal—which was announced last week by the White House Office of Management and Budget as part of a suite updates to Performance.gov —calls  for close collaboration with industry, academia, foundations, and other partners. Already, a diverse group of these stakeholders has come together to create the STEM Undergraduate Partnership in support of this critical Presidential priority.  

Read more about the CAP goal and key first steps here.

Michael Feder is a Policy Analyst at OSTP

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