One of the steps we’ve identified as critical to the long-term health of the economy is a renewed focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. Many companies in the high-tech sector have grown uneasy in their search for highly skilled human capital. While it’s simple to dismiss these concerns when looking at the national unemployment rate, it’s also wrong.
Yes, the unemployment rate has been stubbornly flirting with the 8 percent mark, but the unemployment rate for those with a college degree is roughly half that –at 4.1 percent. For those with STEM degrees, the unemployment rate is even lower. The website dice.com lists about 85,000 high tech job openings in the U.S. As the economy improves, the demand for STEM professionals will continue to grow, but the fact remains that far too many American graduates aren’t prepared for the rejuvenated 21st century economy. The jobs of tomorrow –those jobs that will drive the economy –require creative thinkers, armed with unique skill sets in math and science.
Consider that over the next decade, 30 of the fastest-growing occupations will require some background in STEM, but our students aren’t ready. Not even half of American 4th graders and just a third of 8th graders are proficient or advanced in math, and our 15-year olds rank 25th in math and 17th in science among other industrialized countries.
Last week, education stakeholders from around the country gathered at the New York City Public Library to attend NBC’s third annual Education Nation summit. The summit, held with the express hope of improving our country’s school system, was visited by both President Obama and Governor Romney.
In finding ways to boost our schools, both President Obama and Governor Romney were insistent that in order to close the opportunity gaps that are so prevalent in our school systems, and catch up to those foreign competitors who have invested in strong STEM programs, we need well trained, well equipped teachers. President Obama reiterated his call for 100,000 new STEM educators, and Governor Romney called for schools around the country to attract the best and brightest educators by incentivizing the positions and making sure we reward those most effective educators with promotions.
It’s encouraging to see both the President and the Governor agree on something as fundamentally important to our nation’s vitality as education. Even as both continue to have disagreements on the role of unions and the federal government in the classroom, they occupy some common ground. There is sure to be a great deal of turnover in Congress, and possibly the White House in November. Whatever happens, both parties should come together after the election and look to STEM education as an investment, not a cost, in renewing the innovative spirit in the country.