What Is STEM Education and Why Is It Important?
You’ve probably heard about STEM. The integration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics has been a central focus both within and well outside of education.
In fact, it’s such a powerful concept that it has been hailed as critical to the future — for children, diversity, the workforce and the economy, among other areas. That’s why STEM education has received hundreds of millions of dollars in support from the U.S. government and remains one of the biggest priorities at all levels of the educational system.
But what actually is STEM education, and why is it so important? Here’s what you need to know and how you can help.
What Is STEM Education?
It would be inaccurate to assume that STEM education is merely instruction in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Rather, the idea is taken a step further.
STEM education refers to the integration of the four subjects into a cohesive, interdisciplinary and applied learning approach. This isn’t academic theory—STEM education includes the appropriate real-world application and teaching methods.
As a result, students in any subject can benefit from STEM education. That’s exactly why some educators and organizations refer to it as STEAM, which adds in arts or other creative subjects. They recognize just how powerful the philosophy behind STEM education can be for students.
Why Is STEM Education Important?
There are several layers to explore in discovering why STEM education is so important.
In 2018, the White House released the “Charting a Course for Success” report that illustrated how far the United States was behind other countries in STEM education.
It found that only 20% of high school grads were ready for the rigors of STEM majors. And how over the previous 15 years, the U.S. had produced only 10% of the world’s science and engineering grads.
Since the founding of the Nation, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have been a source of inspirational discoveries and transformative technological advances, helping the United States develop the world's most competitive economy and preserving peace through strength. The pace of innovation is accelerating globally, and with it the competition for scientific and technical talent. Now more than ever the innovation capacity of the United States—and its prosperity and securit —depends on an effective and inclusive STEM education ecosystem. - Charting a Course for Success
That was one of the most news-worthy developments in recent years. It set the stage for many arguments behind STEM in the context of the global economy and supporting it through education.
Job Outlook and Salary
One of the most direct and powerful arguments for the importance of STEM education is how relevant STEM is in the workforce. In 2018, the Pew Research Center found that STEM employment had grown 79% since 1990 (computer jobs increased 338%).
What about now? All occupations are projected to increase 7.7% by 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Non-STEM occupations will increase 7.5% while STEM occupations will increase 10.5%.
The findings are even more pronounced in terms of salary. The median annual wage for all occupations is $41, 950. Those in non-STEM occupations earn $40,020 and those in STEM occupations earn $89,780.
Even areas like entrepreneurship see the same types of results. A report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) found that tech-based startups pay more than double the national average wage and nearly three times the average overall startup wage. They only make up 3.8% of businesses but capture a much larger share of business research and development investment (70.1%), research and development jobs (58.7%) and wages (8.1%), among other areas.
Diversity and Skills
An important detail in the passage from “Charting a Course for Success” comes toward the end of the final sentence: “Now more than ever the innovation capacity of the United States—and its prosperity and security—depends on an effective and inclusive STEM education ecosystem.”
Being inclusive is incredibly important once you understand how STEM occupations are such high-demand, high-paying positions. Unfortunately, however, diversity is a significant issue here.
- The Pew Research Center noted how women account for the majority of healthcare practitioners and technicians but are underrepresented across many other STEM fields, especially in computer jobs and engineering. Black and Hispanic workers are also underrepresented in the STEM workforce.
- In the International Journal of STEM Education, authors noted how women are significantly underrepresented in STEM occupations. They make up less than a quarter of those working in STEM occupations and for women of color, representation is much lower — Hispanic, Asian and Black women receive less than 5% of STEM bachelor’s degrees in the U.S. Authors also pointed out how people of color overall are underrepresented in U.S.-based STEM leadership positions across industry, academia and the federal workforce.
These issues are troubling when you consider how it undermines students’ opportunities to pursue high-demand, high-paying roles. Yet, it’s more than that. STEM education is about a teaching philosophy that naturally integrates critical thinking and language skills in a way that enriches any subject. Perhaps you’ve experienced or can imagine an education that integrates problem solving and engineering practices into any subject, where technology is seamlessly integrated throughout. Any subject—art, language, social studies, health—can benefit.
So when students don’t receive an effective STEM education, they’re not only receiving less instruction in STEM subjects. They miss out on the universal application that high-level skills in STEM subjects can bring.
How You Can Make a Difference
Take the opportunity to encourage young minds in STEM education. Whether that means volunteering a little bit of your time at a local school or finding age-appropriate STEM literature and activities for your children, you can have an impact.
You can also consider pursuing a career or enhancing your career as a teacher or leader in STEM education, which represents a major problem right now in education. Researchers in Economic Development Quarterly noted how the current shortage of teachers in the U.S. is “especially acute” among STEM educators.
In just five courses, you can earn an online graduate certificate in STEM education and learn how you can increase STEM literacy through formal and informal learning opportunities across a variety of settings. Or there’s the 100% online M.A. in Education with a Concentration in STEM Education, which helps you to be a leader in STEM education. You’ll be prepared for advancement in roles across public and private schools, community-based organizations, research, nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations.
UTEP’s programs are focused on preparing today and tomorrow’s educators for working with modern students in multicultural settings who need to find motivation and engagement in their learning. And again, this is especially important. A study in Education Journal found that while students of all races enter into STEM majors at equal rates, minority students leave their major at nearly twice the rate of white students.
UTEP is one of only 17 Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) in the country to be designated as an R1 top tier research university. Interested in learning more about how you can engage and inspire students in STEM education? You can discuss that and more with a one-on-one consultation with an enrollment counselor.