The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has stepped into the STEM conversation with a new review of the federal governmentâ€™s STEM education programs. The Obama Administration has championed STEM as critical to maintaining U.S. global competitiveness and has set a clear priority that American students â€œmove from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math.â€ Against the backdrop of repeated warnings over the growing STEM skills mismatch, researchers have argued over whether the education system needs to produce more graduates to fill jobs in fields that require STEM competencies. The GAO report investigates this issue, as well as existing federal programsâ€™ ability to address the matter, including looking at programsâ€™ workforce alignment and college preparation goals.
The review focused on 13 of the 154 federal STEM programs for secondary and postsecondary education administered by the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health. These 13 programs represented the largest federal investment in STEM education â€“ 54 percent of the total $2.6 billion obligated in fiscal year 2012. The findings also gave an update on the GAOâ€™s 2012 report that found 83 percent of the federal governmentâ€™s STEM education programs reviewed overlapped to some degree with at least one other program. Federal agencies have been working to consolidate duplicative programs and missions through strategic planning. The report concluded that demand for STEM workers remains difficult to pinpoint and thus the appropriate role of the federal investment in this area is uncertain. However, it did find that regardless of a STEM degree-holderâ€™s career choices, the â€œrigor of a STEM education may help promote a workforce with transferable skills and the potential to fuel innovation and economic growth.â€
Andrea Zimmermann, State Policy Associate