U.S. companies simply cannot find enough new high-tech college grads to fill their job openings. In response, many universities are recruiting students into degree programs in science, technology, engineering and math, also known as the STEM disciplines. However, research has found that undergraduates pursuing degrees are failing to complete them at an alarming rate.
Todd R. and Ralph Stinebrickner of the University of Western Ontario published a study last month for the National Bureau of Economic Research chronicling the experiences of 655 students at Berea College throughout their tenure. Their research found that more students who began pursuing STEM degrees switched majors than in any other discipline. The study sheds light on the skills gap that exists in the IT and engineering fields.
U.S. News and World Report published a report in February estimating that 8.6 million Americans will be employed in STEM careers by 2018, an increase of 1.4 million over five years. However, the report also says that “interest…is still lower for upperclassmen that those in lower grades.” This report reinforces the Stinebrickners’ research. Students aren’t eschewing STEM degrees initially – they are failing to complete their degrees.
IBM Systems and Technology Group senior vice president Rodney C. Adkins wrote for Forbes that 5% of Americans work in STEM fields, and they are responsible for 50% of the nation’s “sustained economic expansion.” Thus, keeping students who start in the STEM disciplines on track for graduation and thus employment is crucial for the overall economic strength of the country . A study conducted by IEEE in 2008 reported that this phenomenon isn’t limited to the U.S. and Canada, either. Similar trends are apparent in Australia, Europe, India and Japan.
Stateside, many universities offer tutoring programs targeted specifically at STEM majors to help keep them from switching majors. Struggling students can also find assistance through a range of tutoring programs. For instance, the Office of Naval Research launched an initiative last year via teams at four universities to develop “intelligent tutoring technology…used to enhance the STEM skills of students.”
"I look to these teams of researchers and their unique approaches with intelligent tutoring systems to help the Navy, Marine Corps and our nation in delivering a steady work force of talented scientists and engineers,” says Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research.