Why Do Students Choose STEM?

The U.S. Department of Labor projects that the U.S. will have more than a million job openings in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields by 2018; however, they also find that too few workers will be qualified to fill these positions. Microsoft released findings today from two surveys that suggest the reasons many students choose to study STEM fields during postsecondary education and how high schools can better prepare students who want to pursue these fields.

The first survey includes responses from postsecondary students pursuing degrees in STEM subjects and the second surveys parents of K-12 students.

Findings from the survey of postsecondary STEM students:

  • Respondents chose to pursue STEM fields because of the opportunity for a high salary (68 percent), for intellectual stimulation (68 percent), to help address the nation’s need for more STEM graduates (25 percent), and to increase potential for a future job (66 percent)
  • Almost 60 percent of respondents committed to studying a STEM field while still in high school, and just over half said high school prepared them well to do so
  • More than half of male respondents chose a STEM field because they “always enjoyed playing with games and toys, reading books, and participating in clubs focused on the chosen subject areas” whereas female respondents (51 percent) were more likely to have chosen STEM because they wanted to make a difference

Findings from the survey of parents of K-12 students:

  • Three-quarters of parents, and more than half of students, said that the U.S. is doing a “poor job” of teaching STEM compared to other countries
  • Of parents who felt that STEM should be a priority in the U.S., over half wanted to promote STEM to keep the U.S. competitive, half think STEM will help produce the next generation of innovators, and one-third support STEM to enable students to have well-paying jobs or fulfilling careers

Career Technical Education (CTE) offers challenging courses that prepares students for these in-demand fields through the STEM Career Cluster. As the student survey shows, students feel more prepared to pursue STEM fields in postsecondary education when they have completed rigorous STEM courses during high school. Whatever a student’s motivation for studying STEM may be, CTE provides a solid background in these subjects that will prepare students to further pursue STEM through postsecondary education or a career.

Kara Herbertson, Education Policy Analyst

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