Despite some signs of improvement, student aptitude for and interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has been mostly flat for more than a decade, even as the need for STEM skills continues to grow, according to the U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index.
The Index, the first comprehensive index that measures the key factors relating to STEM jobs and education, shows that after a long period of flat to down indicators, there has been some upward movement, particularly in the actual number of STEM degrees granted at the undergraduate and graduate levels. But even with those numbers on the rise, as a proportion of total degrees granted they still hover close to the same levels that existed in 2000, indicating that the education pipeline to fill the current and future jobs that will require STEM skills still isn’t producing enough talent.
“Just using the governments data, which is quite a conservative estimate, it’s clear that STEM is an important and growing part of the economy,” says Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer of U.S. News & World Report. “Beyond that, we know that STEM skills may be required in as many as 50 percent of future jobs.”
The U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index shows that STEM employment in the United States has gone up by more than 30 percent, from 12.8 million STEM jobs (as defined by the U.S. government) in 2000 to 16.8 million in 2013, and a February report by Burning Glass Technologies indicated the STEM job market is actually far larger than that. Kelly also points out that the analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills associated with science, technology, engineering and mathematics are increasingly important for jobs that aren’t traditionally defined as being in STEM fields.
“People are measuring the number of Ph. D. engineers and scientists out there, but the mechanics putting the wings on the airplanes need STEM skill sets, too,” he says. “This is not simply an issue about guys with lab coats and pocket protectors. This is way beyond that.”
Launched with support from the Raytheon Company, the new U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index measures annual changes in key indicators of STEM activity in the United States relative to the year 2000; it is not a comprehensive measure of all STEM economic or STEM education activity in the United States and does not determine whether explicit STEM goals are being met. The Index is made up of 93 sub-indices and thousands of data points divided into eight components: ACT math and science scores, Advance Placement (AP) test scores in STEM subjects, college and graduate degrees granted, U.S. employment in STEM fields, Program for International Student Assessments (PISA) math and science scores, SAT math scores, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math scores and interest in STEM at the high school level. It relies on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Center for Education Statistics, the College Board, the National Research Center for Colleges & University Admissions, the ACT and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
As with other widely followed indices like the S&P 500 or the Consumer Price Index, the weights and components for future U.S News/Raytheon STEM Indices will likely change as more numerous and refined indicators become available. "For instance, we know that the way the federal government classifies STEM jobs undercounts them, possibly by a lot," Kelly explains.
“Science, technology, engineering and math form the foundation of the global economy,” says Raytheon Chairman William Swanson. “Yet, as the STEM Index suggests, if educational trends continue, fewer qualified candidates will be available to support growth in these areas. It’s critical to our business and the United States’ long term economic outlook that we inspire young people to engage in STEM and dedicate resources to supporting them throughout their academic lives.”
Even with the most weight given to the broadest indicators -- STEM employment and STEM degrees granted -- the Index shows there has been only modest gains in overall STEM activity since 2000.