Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM programs) have historically been the toughest majors, with science and engineering leading the way, according to an article in the New York Times.
However, the STEM fields also have the largest potential to boost America’s economy, and that is why President Obama is placing a major emphasis on these programs. But, it’s not going to be easy.
Politicians and educators have been trying to improve students’ test scores in the STEM fields for years, and they are running out of ideas. Currently, American students trail behind many foreign countries in STEM fields, and Washington is hoping to become more globally competitive through these fields.
That is why Obama and industry groups have called on colleges to produce 10,000 more engineers a year and 100,000 new teachers with majors in STEM programs. Obama is hoping this can put America on the leading edge of STEM innovation.
Step one: start early. Obama has put grade school students under the microscope, analyzing their STEM scores more closely than any other group and always promoting the fields as career options. His efforts have produced some promising results, as more college freshmen are becoming interested in STEM programs.
However, for too many, the interest stops during their freshmen years because they cannot meet the demands of these rigorous courses. Nearly 40% of students planning engineering and science majors end up changing their major or failing to get any degree – even though these students tend to have the highest SAT scores.
Also, earning a STEM degree is becoming increasingly more challenging. Many freshmen level STEM classes are actually designed to weed students out, and unfortunately, they hit their mark far too often.
Making these classes easier is not the answer. So, the Association of American Universities, which represents 61 of the largest research institutions, announced a five-year initiative to encourage professors to employ more interactive teaching techniques – a plan many educators are hoping will increase student interest.
Educators are trying to make the entry-level classes more about practical, real-world application and less about memorizing equations and facts. Also, they want their classes to be more discussion based instead professors just lecturing.
But there are other factors affecting these programs, factors beyond the STEM program’s control. Grade inflation in the humanities and social sciences has attracted a lot of students, even some STEM students because their grades historically tend to be the lowest among freshmen.
College GPA has always been perceived as a strong indicator for early career success; however, a 3.5 in an English program is not necessarily better than a 2.5 in a STEM program. Many students transfer out of STEM classes to achieve a higher GPA, thinking they will find better jobs out of college.
But, that’s not exactly true because there are many more open jobs in STEM fields. The struggle has always been getting students to plunge through the difficult entry-level classes. But right now, a STEM degree is one of the most valuable degrees a student can have.