Report: STEM Job Market Much Larger Than Previously Reported

New data shows there is a much larger demand for students trained in STEM fields than previously thought. 

Two science students look into a microscope.

New data from Burning Glass Technologies shows the demand for STEM graduates may be much larger than previously thought.

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The demand for students trained in science, technology, engineering and math fields may be significantly larger than previous studies have estimated, according to new data from Burning Glass Technologies. 

The new analysis of millions of job postings found there were 5.7 million openings in STEM fields in 2013, 4.4 million of which required at least a bachelor's degree and 2.3 million of which were entry-level jobs that call for less than two years of experience. 

"The market for STEM jobs is bigger, actually significantly bigger, than most other studies have reported in the past," says Burning Glass Chief Executive Officer Matt Sigelman. "We also found that graduates in STEM fields have much better prospects, both because they are competing for a large number of jobs...but also because they make substantially more."

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Nearly half of all entry-level STEM jobs required a bachelor's degree or higher, while just 29 percent of bachelor's degree recipients earn a degree in a STEM field, the study says. For those earning less than a four-year degree, on the other hand, 24 percent of entry-level jobs are available, while 32 percent of sub-baccalaureate degrees are awarded in STEM fields. And the average advertised starting salary for entry-level STEM jobs that require at least a bachelor's degree was 26 percent higher than those for non-STEM fields, the study found. 

Drilling the data down a different way, the study found there were about 2.5 entry-level job postings for each new bachelor's degree recipient in a STEM field, compared with 1.1 posting for each new four-year graduate in a non-STEM field.

The Burning Glass analysis differed so greatly  from other studies because it used a significantly different methodology, Sigelman says. While other studies typically rely on a mix of forecasts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, expected new entrances into the job market and retirement predictions, the Burning Glass researchers analyzed the text of job postings to identify exactly what employers were looking for. That means certain jobs that would not typically be categorized in STEM fields were included in the new analysis. 
 
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"Typically these analyses tend to focus on those occupations which define themselves as being science, technology, engineering and math jobs," Sigelman says. "And because we're looking at millions of job postings, and looking at what employers are truly looking for...we've been able to extend our understanding of the STEM field to include those jobs where employers are typically asking for some qualification in STEM skills, or STEM areas of study."

Within the health care sphere, for example, certain clinical positions that require a background in biology, chemistry or another scientific field, might not always be counted as STEM occupations, Sigelman says. 

And although the Burning Glass study gives "yet more compelling evidence" that earning a bachelor's degree will help put students on the path to a steady job, Sigelman says, there were still a considerable number of opportunities for those with less than a four-year degree. 

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Although there did not appear to be the same disparity between what programs students are completing and where the jobs are overall, Sigelman says there were "considerable variations" field by field. In 2013, for example, he says about 100,000 students completed medical assistant programs, while there were about 73,000 job openings for medical assistants. On the other hand, some fields -- like computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers -- had a much higher demand than supply of trained workers, Sigelman says.

"Our definition of success, so much of our focus in higher education to date has been on college completion," Sigelman says. "What this study reveals is that it's not enough just to complete college, that so much of your success in the job market is going to have to do with what you study as well."

"We need to be focused on making sure students have the right degrees, and increasingly, the right degree is in STEM," he adds.

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  • Allie Bidwell

    Allie Bidwell is an education reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at sbidwell@usnews.com.