A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in May found that the number of jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields has increased over the past ten years, but not as quickly as the number of degrees awarded. Over a ten year period from 2002-2012, the number of post-secondary degrees awarded in STEM fields increased by 55 percent, to more than 2 million per year. STEM degrees have also risen as a percentage of total degrees awarded, up from 39 percent to 42 percent. Over the same period the number of jobs in STEM fields has increased by 16 percent, to 16.5 million.

The report also highlights the difficulty of knowing “if the numbers of STEM graduates are aligned with workforce needs, in part because the demand for STEM workers fluctuates.” Singling out the effects of the recession, GAO points out that the STEM workforce dropped sharply after the financial crisis, but has rebounded “substantially.” The report did find that STEM fields fared much better than others through the recession. In 2012, those in STEM-related careers had an unemployment rate of only 3.2 percent, compared to the non-STEM rate of 8.4 percent.

Noting that the Obama Administration “maintains that a strong educational pipeline creating future STEM workers is important to ensure that the United States remains competitive with other highly technological nations,” GAO looked into the career-related goals of post-secondary and K-12 STEM programs. GAO found that nearly all of the 124 post-secondary programs surveyed factored in workforce needs when designing degree programs, and that nearly all K-12 programs emphasized preparation for higher level STEM education as a primary goal. However, several of these programs did not have any measurable outcomes related to these goals.

GAO made no recommendations in the report, and concluded, “it is difficult to determine whether there has been a shortage or a sufficient supply of STEM workers in the United States.” This report was prepared at the request of House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN).


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