Wanted: 1 Million More College Graduates With STEM Degrees

Report calls for improving science, technology, engineering and math education

STEM Education Report
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STEM Education Report

A Yale University professor is among the members of a task force advising President Obama on how to produce college graduates with science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees. WNPR’s Neena Satija reports on the recommendations of the task force, which were released Tuesday.

According to economic projections, in the next decade America will face a shortage of about a million college graduates with degrees in the STEM areas -- science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Yale Professor Jo Handelsman worked with the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology to report on ways to solve that problem. Essential to the solution, she says, is recognizing another problem.

HANDELSMAN: “60 percent of the students who start out with an interest in majoring in science leave the sciences. And from the research that’s been done that examines why students leave, the teaching methods and the atmosphere in science seem to be the driving forces.”

The report found that the U.S. could produce three-quarters of a million more college graduates in scientific fields just by slightly increasing the percentage of students who stay in the sciences. The way to do that, says Handelsman, is to engage students in the process of scientific discovery rather than simply lecture them on facts. That way she says she’ll hear fewer students tell her something like this.

HANDELSMAN: “Well, scientists only care about the what and not the why. And what an indictment of the teaching that we do to say that science is not the why, and the problem there is not with the students.”

President Obama endorsed a number of the report’s recommendations soon after it was released, announcing investments of more than $160 million in total by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education to improve STEM education.

For WNPR, I’m Neena Satija.

Listen next week for our special series on STEM education in Connecticut, beginning Monday on WNPR news.