Demands of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce, both domestic and abroad, continue to grow more complex with each passing year, as noted in Chapter 1. To remain competitive on a global playing field, the United States will need to cultivate a larger, more agile and diverse STEM workforce. In this chapter, the committee considers these workforce needs within the context of an ever-evolving and changing nation.
The STEM workforce is a generalized term used to describe professionals within fields under the broad categories of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and, in some cases, health-related professions. Researchers tend to use different parameters to define similar STEM occupations, and some may categorize certain positions as STEM focused, while others do not (e.g., technicians, health care professionals, social scientists, and educators). As a result, reported data on STEM often provide different workforce totals, conclusions, and projections. For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provides estimates for the science and engineering (S&E) workforce that range from 6 million to more than 23 million professionals (NSF 2018).1 A Brookings analysis reported that in 2011, 26 million jobs (20 percent of total jobs) required a high level of STEM knowledge (Rothwell 2013). In contrast to both the NSF and Brookings reports, based on 2015 data, government agencies estimated the STEM workforce at roughly 9 million jobs2 (BLS 2017; U.S. Department of Commerce 2017). The variation in these workforce estimates suggests that common metrics are needed to approximate the true size of the U.S. STEM workforce and to increase the accuracy of analytics used to predict future workforce needs.
Despite the inconsistent categorization of STEM positions, job growth has increased across the STEM workforce, more broadly (U.S. Department of Commerce 2017). As the needs of modern business and industry become more complex, more jobs require at least some STEM competency and literacy, and fields not traditionally defined as STEM occupations (e.g., sales, marketing, and management) have begun to shift into new STEM-related categories (BLS 2017; NSB 2018). As a reflection of these changes, workforce projections anticipate that opportunities in STEM and STEM-related fields will continue to be in demand, particularly in the fields of research and development, and will outpace the
1 NSF refers to S&E occupations and S&E-related occupations as components of the S&E workforce. S&E occupations encompass life scientists, computer and mathematical scientists, physical scientists, social scientists, and engineers, as well as postsecondary educators in these disciplines. The S&E-related occupations category is broader and includes health-related occupations, managers, technicians and technologists, architects, actuaries, and precollege educators.
2 The STEM occupation list used for these estimates primarily included core occupations in the hard sciences, engineering, and mathematics. They did not include allied health or medical professions.
In considering these workforce projections, there is evidence that the current domestic supply of STEM workers is not sufficient to meet the nation’s future workforce needs (NAS, NAE, and IOM 2011; NSB 2015). In fact, some estimate that the United States will need 1 million more STEM professionals than it is on track to produce in the coming decade (PCAST 2012). Others have raised concerns that this deficit is not a “personnel shortage,” but rather a “skills shortage” (Cappelli 2015; NAE and NRC 2012; PCAST 2012; PCAST 2014). Either way, these arguments advocate for a closer examination of the nation’s efforts to bolster postsecondary STEM education and workforce training to support its future workforce (NAS, NAE, and IOM 2007; Pew Research Center 2017).
STEM provides a unique level of critical thinking and technical skills, and workers who can master these competencies are in greater demand and earn more than their counterparts without these competencies (Carnevale et al. 2011). In terms of economic impact, STEM occupations generally offer higher wages and additional opportunities for advancement, as compared to non-STEM occupations (Rothwell 2013; U.S. Department of Commerce 2017). For example, the national average wage for all STEM jobs in 2015 was $87,570, which was nearly double the national average wage for non-STEM jobs ($45,700) (BLS 2017). This suggests that individuals who pursue STEM careers have the potential for greater upward mobility and a lasting impact on family wealth.
The Loss of the “Majority” and “Minority”
In efforts to expand the domestic STEM workforce, it is important to consider the current demographic profile of the nation. Understanding the changing demographics of the nation will help to identify the population best primed to fill open STEM positions.
Today, the face of the nation looks very different than it did 50 years ago. With the substantial increase in the nation’s minority population, perhaps the most salient change is that referring to people of color as “minorities” is no longer accurate (U.S. Census Bureau 2018). In 1965, people of color, including African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, represented approximately 18 percent of the U.S. population, with non-Hispanic Whites making up the difference (Pew Research Center 2016). By 2020, people of color are projected to constitute 45 percent of the population, and by 2065, 54 percent of the population (Pew Research Center 2016) (Figure 2-1). Thus, within 50 years, no single racial or ethnic group will comprise the “majority” population group in the United States. Recognizing the realities of the changing nation is critical
in targeting efforts to bolster STEM education and workforce training for the future workforce.
The Changing Demographics of Youth in the United States
The transition toward a non-White majority in the United States is all the more obvious when considering the demographic makeup of younger generations. For example, among the population 0-17 years of age, nearly 50 percent was non-White in 2016 (U.S. Census Bureau 2018). By 2060, roughly two-thirds of the nation’s youth will be of color (U.S. Census Bureau 2018). See Figure 2-2.
As expected, these demographic changes are also reflected in the nation’s education system. The enrollment of students of color, particularly Hispanic populations, is rising. Correspondingly, the percentages, as well as the total number of non-Hispanic White students, are on the decline (BLS 2017; National Center for Education Statistics 2018; U.S. Census Bureau 2018), as shown in Figure 2-3.
Based on this evidence, it becomes critical to understand that as the nation’s demographic profile changes, so should its public policies and practices. With a sense of urgency, the nation has a responsibility to redirect the necessary funding, training, and attention to the strategies that best support its next generation. (See Box 2-1 for a discussion on the research methods in a changing nation.)
An Urgent Need to Expand the Nation’s Domestic STEM Workforce
To support the needs of the STEM workforce, the prevailing strategy of the nation has been to rely heavily on immigration (Hanson and Slaughter 2016; Jaimovich and Siu 2017; NAS, NAE, and IOM 2011). Highly skilled talent, whether domestic or from international sources, is critical for innovation; however, dependence on immigration, rather than cultivating domestic talent, is not a viable, long-term strategy to grow our capacity for advancements in STEM (NAS, NAE, and IOM 2011).
Many foreign-born workers travel to the United States to earn advanced STEM degrees and, using a green card or H-1B visas, often stay in the country to work (Alphonse 2013; Atkinson 2013; Hanson and Slaughter 2016; Hunt 2011; Jaimovich and Siu 2017). These workers, many of whom are counted as underrepresented minorities, help to fill open gaps in the STEM workforce but do not serve to increase domestic “minority” representation in STEM3 (Tapia 2007). As foreign nations continue to advance their own STEM workforce and economies, fewer individuals may need or be able to seek out educational and employment opportunities in America. In fact, over the past 15 years, the number of S&E degrees earned in India and China has risen much faster than in the United States (NSB 2018). Furthermore, given that the rate of immigration to the United States ebbs and flows with national policies and the demographic and economic forces of source countries, relying on immigration as a reliable, long-term strategy may not sufficiently address the U.S. workforce needs. (See Box 2-2 for additional discussion.)
Recent national reports, including Before It’s Too Late (U.S. Department of Education 2000) and Rising Above the Gathering Storm (NAS, NAE, and IOM 2007), among many others, have emphasized a sense of urgency to fill the STEM gap with domestic talent. These reports have focused on the severe repercussions of failing to improve STEM education at all levels of the educational spectrum. Similar expressions of urgency have been issued by the National Summit on Competitiveness (2005) and in investigations by the Congressional Research Service (Kuenzi 2008). As a consequence of these and other warnings, Congress, through the America Competes Act of 2007,4 authorized several government agencies to establish more STEM programs within the U.S. education system. While these congressional actions are necessary, they are just a begin-
3 Considering international students who earn advanced degrees in the United States and then fulfill such vital roles in the nation’s STEM workforce, a National Academies committee recommended that all master’s and Ph.D. recipients in STEM should also automatically receive a green card to eliminate barriers to their being able to remain and move toward citizenship (NAS, NAE, and IOM 2007, pp. 457, 470).
4 H.R.2272, 110th Congress (2007-2008): America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act.
ning. There is substantial value in all segments of society aligning with the singular goal of achieving a progressive makeup of domestic talent in the STEM workforce.
An Urgent Need to Increase Diversity in the STEM Workforce
Advancement of the STEM workforce will require more than simply increasing the number and expertise of its future professionals. It will also require a marked increase in the cultural diversity of its talent (Kochan 2002; NAS, NAE, and IOM 2011; Page 2008). In recognition of this point, the America Competes Reauthorization Act of 20105 directed attention to increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. The successor to the America Competes Act, the American Innovation and Competitive Act6 that was signed into law in 2017, focuses on broader participation in STEM studies and careers. These initiatives are supported by cross-disciplinary research that concludes that the long-term social and economic benefits to increasing the number of people of color in the workforce far outweigh any potential challenges that have been raised
5 H.R.5116, 111th Congress (2009-2010): America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Reauthorization Act of 2010.
6 S.3084, 114th Congress (2015-2016): American Innovation and Competitiveness Act.
As an asset, diversity in the workplace not only expands the available talent pool, but also increases the range of perspectives and expertise available to solve grand challenges in STEM (NAS, NAE, and IOM 2011). Diversity in the workplace, particularly the STEM workforce, also improves work performance and engagement, enhances the quality of research and provision of health care, and promotes innovation and growth (Cohen et al. 2002; Federal Glass Ceiling Commission 1995; Florida 2014). Box 2-3 provides a few cross-sector examples on the impacts of diversity in the workplace.
Despite the demonstrated advantages to diversity in the workforce, it remains an unfortunate truth that the current composition of the STEM workforce does not reflect the current or future demographic realities of the United States. In 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that Hispanics, African Americans, and other racial and ethnic minorities (e.g., American Indian/Alaska Native), remain underrepresented in the science and technology workforce compared to their presence in the workforce more generally (GAO 2017). Similarly, other studies determined that the STEM workforce compromises only 9 percent African Americans and 7 percent Hispanics, even though the total U.S. workforce is made up of 11 percent African Americans and 16 percent Hispanics (Pew Research Center 2018). Furthermore, among employed adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher, African Americans make up only 7 percent and Hispanics 6 percent of the STEM workforce (Pew Research Center 2018).7 As it looks to the future, the United States can help to address the underrepresentation in the STEM workforce, by turning to one of its most underutilized resources: the more than 20 million young people of color8 who have the capacity to enter the STEM fields and close these current gaps.
Recent projection data estimate that by 2030, the number of White public school graduates will decrease by 14 percent, compared to 2013 data (Bransberger and Michelau 2016). Correspondingly, between 2018 and 2028, the projected growth in the number of non-White public high school graduates will increase and replace the numerical decrease in White graduates (in public and private schools) nearly one-to-one (Bransberger and Michelau 2016). Based on these findings, the committee suggests that the most efficient way to advance the STEM workforce is to capitalize on the nation’s changing demographics, and
7 Additional estimates suggest that Asians are overrepresented across all STEM occupational clusters (Pew Research Center 2018); however, these analyses do not disaggregate the data by ethnicity and miss an opportunity to expose potential disparities among this diverse group. In addition, these analyses did not include data on American Indian/Alaska Native’s underrepresentation in STEM.
8 Category includes 15- to 24-year olds, including residents of Hispanic and non-Hispanic origin and excluding non-Hispanic Whites. U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division; Annual Estimates of the Resident Population by Sex, Age, Race, and Hispanic Origin for the United States and States: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2017.
invest, support, and expand efforts to bolster success in STEM education and workforce training among the plurality of college-age students of color.
Diversity in Higher Education
The current demographic profile of students enrolling in college today is very different from the profile 25 years ago. There has been a rapid rise in the number of students of color graduating from U.S. high schools (Bransberger and Michelau 2016). In addition, students identified as nontraditional9 are a rapidly growing percentage of the total enrollment in higher education and are in line to outpace traditional undergraduates in the near future (National Center for Education Statistics 2002, 2017). These findings should worry stakeholders of the STEM workforce, in that the nation’s fastest-growing population group, with the greatest employment potential, is also the most underrepresented across the entire STEM workforce (Carnevale et al. 2011; Huang et al. 2000).
And while the challenges tied to the new profile of students in higher education are complex, including the need to reexamine every institution’s current social, financial, educational, and cultural support systems, one solution is to invest in institutions that already have an established and intentional focus to educate and train this particular population of students. Following this logic, it can be argued that turning the nation’s attention to the underutilized resource of Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) is a strategy that holds great promise for growing the size and diversity of a STEM-capable workforce.
Attempts to increase both the total number of students of color and their representation within the STEM workforce are not new propositions. Previous studies conducted by the National Academies and other organizations have underscored this urgency (e.g., NAS, NAE, and IOM 2011; NSF 2017; Palmer et al. 2015; Rodriguez et al. 2012). However, an underappreciated strategy to accomplish this goal is to turn the nation’s attention and resources to the schools that are most intentional in their efforts to provide pathways to educational success and workforce readiness for today’s student body: the nation’s more than 700 two- and four-year MSIs can serve in this capacity.
Chapter 3 begins a fuller discussion of MSIs and the students they serve. For now, we will note that MSIs vary substantially in their origins, missions, student
9 Nontraditional students are generally defined as students with one of the following characteristics: independent, having one or more dependents, being a single caregiver, not having received a standard high school diploma, having delayed enrollment in postsecondary education by a year or more after high school, working full time while enrolled, and/or attending school part time (Brock 2010; Choy 2002; Horn and Carroll 1996; Kim 2002, Taniguchi and Kaufman 2005).
demographics, and levels of institutional selectivity. But in general, their service to the nation provides a gateway to higher education and the workforce, particularly for underrepresented students of color and those from low-income and first-generation-to-college backgrounds. Taken together, two- and four-year MSIs enroll nearly 30 percent of all undergraduates in the U.S. higher education system (Espinosa et al. 2017). Given the nation’s urgent need for a well-trained, domestic STEM-capable workforce, and the strong value proposition for inclusion and diversity, MSIs are perhaps the most poised of any sector within American postsecondary education to solve an unaddressed STEM workforce supply problem. In the interest of bolstering national achievements in STEM and remaining competitive in a global economy, determining the most effective strategies to support student success at MSIs becomes all the more urgent.
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