According to a summary in his 2014 budget request, Mr. Obama has designated $180 million for programs to increase opportunities for participation in STEM programs, from kindergarten through graduate school, for groups historically underrepresented in those fields.An additional $265 million would be directed to support networks of school districts, universities, science agencies, museums, businesses and other educational entities focused on STEM education, and to finance the creation of a corps of master teachers. Of that, $80 million would go toward furthering the president’s goal of adding 100,000 math and science teachers over a decade.
This is the kind of thing we like to see. Faced with a dearth of qualified American workers, companies are racing to bring in foreigners skilled in STEM fields. But their efforts have largely been blocked by tight immigration policies for skilled workers. This year, the 85,000 cap of foreign work visas was reached in less than a week. And thousands of STEM jobs remain unfilled. In fact, while there are 3.6 unemployed workers for every available job in the country, there is only one unemployed STEM worker for every two open STEM jobs.Meanwhile, STEM graduates fare much better than other college grads: nearly half of all college grads are underemployed, 13.4 million of whom work for hourly pay. Sixty-five percent of STEM graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn a higher wage than their counterparts with Master’s degrees in other fields.With so many available jobs, a strong financial incentive to train for them, and little competition from foreign workers, why aren’t American students flocking to STEM fields? The problem seems to begin before college; many college professors complain that students enter their programs woefully unprepared for the rigors of college level coursework in technical studies. As a result, nearly half of high school students who go on to major in engineering drop out or switch to another program.If the President’s budget proposal can somehow boost the STEM knowledge base of K-12 students and increase the numbers of qualified American STEM workers, it would be a worthy investment.[Chalkboard image courtesy of Shutterstock]