Report Sheds Light on 'Leaky STEM Pipeline'

Report Sheds Light on 'Leaky STEM Pipeline'

SAY IT AIN'T SO: Apparently the perceived shortage of American STEM graduates may be a myth. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute argues that there is a more than ample supply of STEM graduates to fill existing STEM-related (and more specifically, IT) jobs.

The paper argues largely against current immigration reform efforts. No policy experts or opinions here--you can find those details here in the WaPo and again in The Atlantic. But there are some interesting insights evident in the data sets the report references. Collected in 2009 by the National Center for Education Statistics from a cohort of college graduates who were freshman in 2003, the data suggests that many STEM grads simply aren't interested in the available job positions.

"In computer and information science and in engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students than are hired into those fields each year; of the computer science graduates not entering the IT workforce, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations. These responses suggest that the supply of graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry."

The data also suggests that the “leaky STEM pipeline” gets a few plugs at the collegiate level. Factoring in students who switch into STEM majors, the total number of “core science and engineering” majors actually increases by graduation time. Of course such conclusions are limited to a cohort who coincidentally graduated during the 2008 recession when penny-pinching parents and students were more likely to question the utility of a French and Philosophy double major.

All of the report's data points suggest that a fairly recent cohort of STEM grads are either uninterested, unqualified, or otherwise unavailable for existing STEM job openings (or again specifically IT jobs which the report claims comprises 59% of all STEM jobs). The mythical "leaky STEM pipeline" certainly experiences a decline in output--at least until students enter college. But the NCES data makes it difficult to frame K-12 STEM education as a singular culprit

There are a number of reasons to continue improving STEM education beyond filling available jobs, but as the pressure to increase K-12 students' quantitative reasoning skills ratchets upward with RTTT and Common Core, it could be the case that school leaders are forsaking the arts and other non-STEM character-building subjects to focus on a problem that may not actually exist-- or worse, can't be solved.

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