The quality of STEM education is an issue Arkansas shares with the rest of the nation. The U.S. lags behind many nations in math and science, and there are not enough qualified STEM teachers or students with STEM-related degrees or certificates.
The nation suffers from what business leaders call a “leaky STEM pipeline.” A small segment of elementary students thrive in math and science, fewer declare a STEM-related major when they enter college, and fewer still ultimately enter STEM professions. This pipeline is not adequately preparing our youth for the 21st century workforce.
In many ways, Arkansas suffers from an especially leaky STEM pipeline. Women and people of color are an underrepresented segment of Arkansans with degrees in STEM fields. Women account for 29 percent of that population; African Americans and Latinos account for only 11 percent and 2 percent, respectively. In addition, even as the number of college students who need remediation has decreased in recent years, the rates are still too high, particularly in math and for students enrolled in two-year colleges. Currently, 63 percent of Arkansas’s first-time community college students need remediation in math.
These numbers are particularly upsetting in light of the huge earnings potential for job seekers with formal STEM knowledge beyond the high school level. The economic benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree or higher in a STEM subject are clear, and even a two-year degree or certificate in a STEM subject has a career-building value rarely seen in other professional fields. In fact, half of all STEM jobs are available to workers without a four-year college degree, and these jobs pay an average salary of $53,000 a year. If we do not take action to invest in high-quality STEM education for our students, our state will continue to lose millions in tax revenue gained from higher paid employees and a larger network of technology and engineering businesses.
These Bright Spots demonstrate how Arkansas students, families, educators, community leaders, business leaders, and policymakers can reverse negative trends in education and strengthen the STEM pipeline. Arkansans must break down barriers to success based on economic, racial, and social inequity so all residents can earn jobs that provide a family-supporting wage.
These stories reflect the great educational and economic potential of STEM in Arkansas, particularly for teachers and students. Teachers must serve as a strong force in student growth and learning. Students must engage deeply in STEM material and develop the kind of passion that can sustain rigorous study, a lifetime of learning, and their rightful place in the 21st century workforce.
Students, families, community leaders, business leaders, and policymakers, and foundations to take a close look at these bright spots in STEM, acknowledge what makes them effective, and take action to ensure STEM education transforms Arkansas’s economic future.