The reasons the United States lags behind its competitors in producing STEM graduates have been well documented. They include:
- Lack of rigorous K–12 math and science standards. Standards in math and science have varied greatly across states and, in many cases, do not test students’ abilities to utilize concepts and solve problems.
- Lack of qualified instructors. A shortfall in the numbers of qualified math and science teachers in the classroom is a chronic problem in the K–12 system; many classrooms are staffed by teachers with neither a certificate nor a degree in their assigned subject area.
- Lack of preparation for postsecondary STEM study. A student’s ability to enter and complete a STEM postsecondary degree or credential is often jeopardized because the pupil did not take sufficiently challenging courses in high school or spend enough time practicing STEM skills in hands-on activities.
- Failure to motivate student interest in math and science. In most K–12 systems, math and science subjects are disconnected from other subject matters and the real world, and students often fail to see the connections between what they are studying and STEM career options.
- Failure of the postsecondary system to meet STEM job demands. Although STEM jobs are expected to grow by 17 percent between 2008 and 2018, many higher education institutions— including community colleges, four-year colleges, and research universities—have not made an effort to increase their output of STEM degrees or certificates.
Historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, particularly blacks and Hispanics, continue to display lower (Science and Engineering) S&E participation rates relative to their presence in the U.S. population. Conversely, Asians and foreign-born individuals display higher S&E participation rates relative to their overall presence in the U.S. population.
- Hispanics, blacks, and American Indians or Alaska Natives together make up 26% of the U.S. population age 21 and older but a much smaller proportion of the S&E workforce: 10% of workers in S&E occupations and 13% of S&E highest degree holders.
- Asians work in S&E occupations at higher rates (19%) than their representation in the U.S. population age 21 and older (5%). Asians have a large presence in engineering and computer sciences occupations, particularly among computer software and hardware engineers, software developers, and postsecondary teachers in engineering.
- About 70% of workers in S&E occupations are non-Hispanic whites, which is comparable to their overall representation in the U.S. population age 21 and older (68%).
- Foreign-born individuals account for slightly more than one-fourth of all workers in S&E occupations, which is higher than their representation in the entire college-educated workforce (15%). Foreign-born workers employed in S&E occupations tend to have higher levels of education than their U.S. native-born counterparts.