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Government Report: Get A STEM Degree, Dummy!


It’s all about the STEM, baby.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office says that almost all job growth in the United States over the past decade has come from so-called STEM fields, and college students seem to be adjusting to the new reality.

STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math, the collection of quantitative fields that are regarded as especially important to modern economies. The GAO report bears out this belief, as from 2004 to 2012, STEM fields accounted for all of the nation’s job growth, with a 16 percent rise in STEM jobs from 14.2 million to 16.5 million jobs. Non-STEM jobs remained about the same in number over the same span, despite continued growth in the size of the working-age population.

From 2003 to 2012, the number of degrees awarded in STEM fields surged 55 percent, growing from 1.35 million to just over 2 million in 2012. In comparison, the total number of degrees in all non-STEM majors grew just 37 percent.

The report noted, however, that it was difficult to know whether the particular specialties of new STEM graduates were aligning with the STEM sectors that are seeing job growth. Biology graduates cannot necessarily take jobs in IT or engineering, for instance, despite both falling under the STEM label.

Not all STEM majors are growing equally. So-called “Core STEM,” which consists solely of the hard sciences, engineering, mathematics, and computer science, grew only 19 percent, actually a slower rate than non-STEM majors. The report attributed this slow growth to the fact that the number of people pursuing computer science and IT degrees actually dropping 18 percent over the observed decade. While computer science has become a hot field again recently, it was in decline for some time due to the dot-com crash, the report says. Growth in mathematics and science degrees outpaced non-STEM major growth, though only slightly.

In contrast, the separately defined area of “Health care STEM” boomed tremendously, doubling over the past decade. Health care STEM includes fields such as nursing and health technicians.

For those who enter STEM, job prospects are significantly better than they are for the rest of the population. Non-STEM occupations had an overall unemployment rate of 8.5 percent in 2012, and their average annual wage was only $41,000. In comparison, STEM fields averaged $79,000 and had a measly 3.2 percent unemployment rate.

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