In The Nick Of Time: Science Cheerleaders!

Science! Science! Science!

Cheerleaders for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)? Absolutely! It’s about time!

The United States is at a crossroads. Battling for its survival, and desperately needs a quintessential American pep rally.

We can’t secure a prosperous future without innovation, science, and technology. But, we have three major STEM problems — rapid retirement, supply lags demand and kids aren’t interested.

Between 2004 and 2014, it is estimated a half million engineers will retire, but EngineeringTrends, an engineering education consulting group, reports that engineering supply lags demand by 7 years in the United States.

The reason for the lag in supply versus demand is because while the number of students receiving bachelor’s degrees overall in the U.S. has increased by more than 50%, the number of students earning bachelor’s degrees in engineering has declined by almost 3% over the past two decades according to the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering (S&E) Indicators 2008.

The American Society for Engineering Education reports U.S. engineering enrollment grew to 403,000 in 2008 with 74,000 graduates receiving bachelor’s degrees, but that’s far less than Japan’s over 430,000 engineering students in 2005 and 100,000 bachelor’s degrees in 2002, and China’s 250,000 bachelor’s degrees in 2002. India is graduating more engineers than the US, but how many more is open to interpretation of available data.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports worldwide the average number of first-time graduates in science and engineering as a percentage of total first-time graduates is 23%. China (~40%), Korea (~40%), Germany (30%), and Japan (25%) are above the average, while the U.S. is below the average at just over 15%.

The U.S. lags behind other industrialized and developing countries for several reasons.

Reason 1: Only 7 out of 10 students who enter the U.S. school system graduate high school, according to several studies including Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.

Reason 2: Less than 3.5% (or just over 100,000) of the 2.7 to 2.9 million high school graduates go into engineering programs. A 2008 Harris Interactive/American Society for Quality study found this lack of interest can be attributed to the following.

Forty-four percent of kids, ages 8-17, don’t know much about engineering, and 85% of the respondents want a more exciting profession than engineering. While 97% of parents stated they believe that knowledge of math and science will help their children have a successful career, only 20% encourage/will encourage their sons or daughters to become engineers.

The study further reports that kids don’t feel confident enough in their math or science skills (21%) to be good at engineering — despite the fact that the largest number of kids ranked math (22%) and science (17%) as their favorite subjects.

Reason 3: There are large enrollment declines in years 2, 3 and 4, especially in underrepresented minorities.

Factors leading to the enrollment declines include the high cost — upwards of $50,000 per year — of engineering schools, the need for remediation in math (15%) and science (8%), too much theory being taught in the first year, and the perceived lack of quality of professors, according to S&E Indicators.

As you can see from the aforementioned numbers, for the security and prosperity of the United States, we need to get students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. So please join us and the Science Cheerleaders in letting out a loud cheer.

Science! Science! Science!

And, let’s show our future how exciting and rewarding a career in science, technology, engineering, and math can be.

Jeff Klingberg
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