How are we doing in U.S. STEM education? A timeline.

What level of education do US S&E workers have? How well do 8th graders score in math and science? How often do parents help their kids with homework?

All this and more in a new data collection from the National Science Board.

STEM workforce education breakdown

What level of education do US Science &Engineering workers have? Just one graphic from a new STEM Education and Data Trends Tool, assembled by the National Science Board.  S&E = science and engineering. S&E occupations are those in biological/agricultural/environmental life sciences, physical sciences, computer sciences, mathematics/statistics, engineering, psychology, and social sciences. Physical sciences = chemistry, physics, astronomy, and earth/ocean/atmospheric sciences.

The U.S. National Science Board (NSB) released a synopsis of data and trends for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education last week. The graphical tool organizes summary charts and data drawn from the 2012 Science and Engineering Indicators report along an educational timeline from pre-K to employment and includes data on state-by-state education funding, career prospects, and student proficiency in STEM subjects.

Some of the graphics may surprise you — and generate more questions than they answer. The above example of “educational attainment of S&E workers,” drawn from 2009 US Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS) data reveals that a quarter of the science and engineering labor force have not completed a bachelor’s degree. What types of work are they doing? The Science and Engineering Indicators report hints that it may be IT:

“Technical issues related to occupational classification may inflate the estimated size of the nonbaccalaureate S&E workforce. Even so, these data indicate that many individuals enter the S&E workforce with marketable technical skills from technical or vocational schools (with or without earned associate’s degrees) or college courses, and many acquire these skills through workforce experience or on-the-job training. In information technology, and to some extent in other occupations, employers frequently use certification exams, not formal degrees, to judge skills.”

Liana Christin Landivar. “The relationship between science and engineering education and employment in STEM occupations.” American Community Surveys Reports ACS-23 (US Census Bureau).  Issued September 2013.

“The relationship between science and engineering education and employment in STEM occupations.” Liana Christin Landivar. American Community Surveys Reports ACS-23 (US Census Bureau). September 2013.

A report on 2011 data from the American Community Survey agrees, and adds that engineering technicians often have vocational degrees.

What specific jobs underlie broad classifications like “biological/agricultural/environmental life sciences” in the NSB report? It probably excludes healthcare practitioners (the ACS classifies healthcare as “STEM-related”) and “postsecondary teachers.”

Of related interest: a Georgetown University study by Anthony Carnevale and colleagues found that if your terminal degree is a bachelor’s, the most lucrative majors are all in applied STEM fields. Primarily engineering. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that ecologists are not in it for the $$. Read the report for additional labor demographic data on gender, race and ethnicity, and percentages of students from each major who go on to obtain graduate degrees (36% from ecology, 56% from biology, 29% form environmental science).



Author: Liza Lester

ESA's Communications Officer came on board in the fall of 2011 after a Mass Media Science and Engineering fellowship with AAAS and a doctorate in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Washington.

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