Companies Increasingly Influencing College STEM Programs

Experts say they can reduce unemployment and fill high-demand jobs with course redesigns.

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Technology companies are having trouble hiring skilled workers, but in some communities, they think they've found an answer. A growing number of companies are partnering with universities to form specialized programs designed to give students the experience needed to work at the company.

Monday, the Business-Higher Education Forum—a consortium of CEOs and university presidents—announced 12 new programs nationwide that will help train students for specific careers. At the University of Maryland-College Park, Northrop Grumman will fund a new cybersecurity program, while Sherwin Williams has partnered with Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland to form a materials science program.

[U.S. News STEM Education Center]

Experts focused on solving the science, technology, engineering, and math skills shortage say colleges are the ideal place for enterprise to step in and help formulate the curricula. Students have long been frustrated with introductory engineering classes that seemingly have little to do with the real world and companies are sick of spending valuable time and money retraining college graduates who don't have real-world skills.

Designing classes that directly correlate to what students will do in the workforce makes sense for both. Studies have shown that STEM students—a large percentage of whom switch majors after their freshman year—are more likely to graduate if they have engaging classes.

"People say it's because students are switching to subjects that they're more interested in. Well, if I get an 'A' in one area and a 'D' in another, obviously I'm going to be interested in another area," says Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people.

['Weed Out' Classes Are Killing STEM Achievement]

His university recently redesigned introductory STEM courses to feature more group work and real-world scenarios and has subsequently seen a 50 percent increase in the number of students getting a B or better, without dumbing down the courses.

"Universities have to find ways of rethinking how we do business," he says.

Monday's Business-Higher Education Forum announcement is one way companies are trying to inject themselves into the education world. Companies are increasingly showing up for career fairs during students' freshmen and sophomore years, which Wes Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman, calls "make or break" years for students.

"We need ways to attract, retain, and engage students," he says. For a list of all companies and universities participating in the new BHEF programs, visit bhef.com.

Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at jkoebler@usnews.com

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