In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama promised to train 100,000 new teachers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in the next 10 years, a theme he's returned to in successive addresses. Just this week, Obama reasserted his commitment to STEM education by promoting it through a variety of tools in his budget proposal, saying that "This is the time to reach a level of research and development that we haven’t seen since the height of the space race."
A new report from the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, however, indicates that Obama's emphasis on STEM training may be misplaced. The study's authors -- Hal Salzman, Daniel Kuehn, and B. Lindsay Lowell -- claim that there are more qualified STEM college graduates than there are jobs in STEM fields.
That STEM grads outnumber STEM jobs can be seen in this chart:
The authors write: "For STEM graduates, the supply exceeds the number hired each year by nearly two to one, depending on the field of study. Even in engineering, U.S. colleges have historically produced about 50 percent more graduates than are hired into engineering jobs each year."
And the primary reason more STEM grads weren't entering the field of the major right after graduation? Because the pay wasn't high enough, if a job was available at all:
That so many STEM grads aren't working in STEM fields strongly suggests that there are more than enough students getting training in science-related fields, and that the problem is instead with the supply of STEM jobs.
The authors suggest that the reason that STEM education is seen as an area in dire need for reform is a misunderstanding of how many jobs in such fields exist. The average American student may be behind in STEM subjects, but only the most successul hard-science students are ever going to be candidates for the STEM jobs available:
The bottom line is that U.S. employers have access to the largest body of home-grown STEM grads:
These facts should cast doubt on any large-scale attempt to shunt American students into STEM-related jobs. But, for policy purposes, it has to be remembered that not all STEM jobs are created equal. There may not always be a high-paying job awaiting a graduate of a mid-tier college with a degree in biology. There will always be a job for a Mark Zuckerberg-level talent, however. That's true whether that talented student is coming from the U.S. or elsewhere.