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Does STEM Education Have a Pipeline Problem?

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EWA recently held a one-day seminar focused on STEM education at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. We invited some of the journalists attending to contribute blog posts from the sessions.Today’s entry is from William Ford, a correspondent with Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. You can find additional resources from the seminar, including materials from many of the presenters, here.

Session: Is There a Pipeline Problem?
Much of the STEM discussion focuses on the need to educate people for careers that require math and science skills. Is there a shortage of capable employees and, if so, what efforts might produce more?

Participants:  Kim Clark, Senior Writer, Money Magazine (moderator)

Terry Grobe, Program Director, Jobs For the Future

B. Lindsay Lowell, Director, Institute for the Study of International Migration, Georgetown University

Mark Schneider, Vice President of American Institutes for Research and President of

Conventional wisdom holds that students who major in the sciences can later transform that knowledge into a decent income. However, when it comes to potential earnings, not all STEM fields are equal, said Mark Schneider, who studies and collects data on higher education as vice president of American Institutes for Research, and is also president of

At the EWA seminar, Schneider displayed a bar graph highlighting the average annual starting salaries in Virginia of those with bachelor’s degrees among seven majors. Biology majors earned the lowest starting salary, just below $30,000. By contrast, an electrical engineer commanded the highest starting salary, exceeding $50,000.

At the master’s level in Virginia, the average starting salaries of those with business degrees ranked the highest, slightly exceeding $80,000. Biology ranked second to last — ahead of English majors — at just below $40,000; electrical engineering was second at approximately $80,000.

B. Lindsay Lowell, director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, said that data suggests that “more, more, more isn’t always better” when trying to produce more STEM professionals at post-secondary institutions.

As a matter of fact, Lowell said STEM jobs were more lucrative 50 years ago.

Terry Grobe of Jobs For the Future (JFF) said her nonprofit organization based in Boston offers a program, Counseling to Careers, to help students select particular STEM occupations.

According to the JFF documents, Counseling to Careers allows students to earn college credentials, improves graduation rates at community colleges and connect students with local workforce agencies to find STEM jobs in a particular region and state. For instance, the number of positions for sterile processing technicians is expected to grow by 10 percent in Massachusetts from 2008 to 2018.

“We want to support a group of people to find a program that has the best payoff,” Grobe said.

The last session focused on recruiting and training STEM teachers in K-12 schools. Richard Ingersoll, professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, said trying to retain those teachers is one of the biggest challenges in local schools.

Ingersoll attributed the high-turnover rate among such teachers to a lack of classroom autonomy, lack of resources and constant testing requirements.

“We have been trying to fix this problem for a half-century,” he said. Ingersoll’s advice for educators?  Keep qualified STEM teachers in the classroom who would provide valuable knowledge to students. In turn, students can then build on a solid foundation as they pursue their post-secondary studies, and then move on to a lucrative career.