new high of 27 percent, largely due to increases in those intending to study the biological/agricultural sciences and engineering.3
• With the exception of computer science, interest in specific STEM bachelor’s degrees has increased consistently over time, with biological/agricultural sciences and engineering the most popular. In computer science, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded increased dramatically from 1998 to 2004 but fell sharply through 2008 and remained flat in 2009.4
• The percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in a STEM field has been stable, ranging from 16 percent to 17 percent over the period 2000-2009.5
• Comparing STEM degrees awarded, on the one hand, to freshmen intentions, on the other, suggests that many students who enter college intending to get a STEM degree do not ultimately graduate with one. For example, approximately 22 percent of freshmen who entered a 4-year college or university in 2006 reported the intention to major in STEM;6 in 2009, only about 16 percent of degrees were in a STEM field.7 This phenomenon is most notable in engineering and, to a lesser extent, the physical sciences.8
• More than 50 percent of the doctorates awarded in the years 2006-2009 were in a STEM field, about a 9 percent increase from the beginning of the decade.9
• Among employed people in 2006 who had graduated in academic years 2003-2005 with a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field, about 63 percent were in a STEM or STEM-related occupation; the comparable number was roughly 81 percent for those graduating with a STEM master’s degree10 and even higher for those at the doctoral level.
The U.S. economy is becoming more dependent on STEM workers. Indeed, as noted in Chapter 3, STEM occupations are projected to grow slightly faster than other occupations. Underrepresented groups such as women and non-Asian minorities are potential target groups for increases in the STEM workforce; STEM occupations pay above the average for these groups, and adding them would increase diversity.
Indeed, recent data indicate the following:
• Women accounted for approximately 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned over the years 2000-2009. The percentage of bachelor’s degrees women earned in STEM fields during this period ranged betwen 10 and 11 percent; for men, however, the percentage of degrees earned in STEM fields ranged between 23 and 25 percent, more than twice the rate for women.11
• Although the share of African-Americans and Latinos in the overall pool of college students has been growing over the past 3 decades to about 26 percent of all undergraduates (including those seeking a 2-year degree), they still account for less than their 33 percent share of the college-age population would imply. Moreover, minorities (other than Asians) are even more underrepresented in STEM fields. While the overall percentage of 24-year-olds
3 The other broad categories under consideration are physical sciences; mathematics/statistics; computer sciences; and engineering. Not included are social/behavioral sciences. See Appendix Table 2-12 in National Science Board (2012).
4 Computer science, narrowly defined, is a relatively small field compared to other degree fields leading to employment in computer-related occupations such as electrical engineering. Recent data (see IPEDS) indicates that bachelor’s degrees in computer science are once again rising. See Appendix Table 2-18 in National Science Board (2012).
5 See Appendix Table 2-19 in National Science Board (2012).
6 See Appendix Table 2-12 in National Science Board (2012).
7 See Appendix Table 2-18 in National Science Board (2012).
8 Note, however, that an examination by Xie and Killewald (2012) of three cohorts of high school seniors (1972, 1982, and 1992) found that “there is little evidence that science suffers from a ‘leaky pipeline’ during the college years that disproportionately steers students away from scientific fields.” Moreover, according to Xie and Killewald, “teenagers’ expectations of their future educational outcomes are full of noise” and “many students shift into and out of science, especially around the time of entering college.” Further information is available in Xie and Killewald (2012).
9 See Appendix Table 2-27 in National Science Board (2012).
10 See Tables 35 and 36 in National Science Foundation (2010).
11 In addition, from 2000 to 2009, the share of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to women declined in computer sciences (by 10 percentage points), mathematics (by 5 percentage points), and engineering (by 2 percentage points). See Appendix Table 2-18 in National Science Board (2012).