Last week My College Options and STEMconnector released a report on high school students’ interest in STEM subjects. The national survey set out to reveal whether or not students want to pursue STEM subjects in college and in their careers, and the results seem unclear. Different media outlets report seemingly different results: “STEM Interest on Rise Among High Schoolers, Report Finds,” Education Week reports. But then: “Many High Schoolers Giving Up on STEM,” says U.S. News & World Report.
So do high school students dig STEM or not?
Turns out, neither outlet is wrong. The report revealed that high schoolers’ interest in STEM is both rising and falling — it just depends on how you look at it.
Students are increasingly interested in pursuing STEM subjects, as interest has climbed 21 percent among high schoolers when comparing 2013 classes with classes of 10 years ago, according to Education Week. However, the problem is they’re not sticking with it, reports U.S. News. Nearly 60 percent of the students who began high school with the goal of pursuing STEM subjects change their minds by the time graduation rolls around.
Both outlets report a gender gap between males and females in the class of 2013: 38 percent of males report STEM interest compared to only 15 percent of females. There is also a significant race gap, with Asian, Caucasian, and American Indian students reporting higher interest in STEM subjects than their Hispanic and African-American peers.
Education Week provides a complete breakdown of interest in STEM areas by subject, with mechanical engineering (20 percent) and biology (12 percent) at the top in terms of popularity, and marine biology (8 percent) and computer engineering (6 percent) coming in as the least popular STEM subjects. Interestingly enough, a gender divide is revealed between the top two subjects: 25 percent of girls and only 6 percent of boys are interested in biology, while 28 percent of boys and just 5 percent of girls are interested in mechanical engineering.
STEM careers are expected to grow by more than 20 percent in the next five years — much faster than other careers in the U.S. labor force. So while students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and math may be on the rise at the beginning of their high school careers, STEM educators will need to figure out how to maintain that interest throughout those four years.