America needs to produce considerably more college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) over the next decade, according to a new report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). One million additional STEM professionals will be needed over the next decade to fill domestic demand for employees with scientific skills.

To meet this ambitious goal, the United States would need to increase the number of undergraduates who complete college with a STEM degree by about a third over current graduation rates.

The PCAST report argues that this goal can be attained by retaining more of the students who enter college with an interest in STEM fields. Currently, fewer than 40 percent of college freshmen who intend to major in a STEM field actually graduate with a STEM degree. PCAST estimates that increasing the retention of undergraduate STEM majors from 40 percent to 50 percent would generate about three-quarters of the targeted one million additional STEM graduates.

To achieve higher retention rates, colleges should actively engage students in class and should replace standard lab coursework with discovery-based research opportunities. Students also need better preparation in math, as nearly 60 percent of students enter college with inadequate math skills.

President Obama stated his support for the goals underlying the report. The President announced a new joint initiative between the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to improve K-16 math education. The initiative will develop, validate, and scale up evidence-based approaches to improve student learning of mathematics.

The report also calls for innovation in the nation’s community colleges, including new partnerships that can help students achieve the STEM skills they require to compete in the workforce. The Administration’s efforts to enhance STEM education at community colleges was further reinforced as President Obama traveled to a community college in Northern Virginia on Monday, 13 February 2012 to announce higher education provisions in his fiscal year 2013 budget request.

The PCAST report, “Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduate with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/pcast.

 


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