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The Relationship Between Science and Engineering Education and Employment in STEM Occupations

Report Number ACS-23
Liana Christin Landivar
Component ID: #ti1150719697

Introduction

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers account for just 6 percent of the U.S. workforce, yet they are essential to economic growth, innovation, and global competitiveness. Large investments in science and technology during the twentieth century led to the creation of new industries and employment opportunities, increased economic prosperity, and improved quality of life.1 Government and private industry have emphasized the need to increase the STEM workforce. Leaders cite concerns with national security, maintenance of international standing in research and development, and leadership in innovation. In 2007, Congress passed the America COMPETES Act, reauthorized in 2010, to increase economic competitiveness by promoting STEM education and increasing research investment.2 The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine report Rising Above the Gathering Storm also calls for increased funding for K–12, college, and graduate education in STEM fields and for research and development.3

A question one might ask is whether increased training in science and engineering yields more STEM workers. This report explores the links between educational attainment, science and engineering training in college, and employment in a STEM occupation.4 Several pathways may increase the STEM workforce. Science and engineering training in college could result in subsequent STEM employment. Alternatively, or in addition, the number of STEM workers without a bachelor’s degree in a science and engineering field could grow. This report uses the 2011 American Community Survey (ACS) to provide statistics on the educational attainment of STEM workers, detailing how many STEM workers are college and noncollege graduates. This report also shows the leading STEM occupations by educational attainment, and the percentage of science and engineering graduates who are currently employed in a STEM occupation. Finally, the report shows the geographic concentration of STEM workers by educational attainment.

Component ID: #ti2035030752

Highlights

  • In 2011, there were 7.2 million STEM workers aged 25 to 64, accounting for 6 percent of the workforce. Half of STEM workers worked in computer occupations. An additional 7.8 million workers were employed in STEM-related occupations, most of which were in health care.
  • About 70 percent of STEM workers had at least a bachelor’s degree, while 30 percent of STEM workers had less than a bachelor’s degree.
  • Of the 40.6 million employed college graduates aged 25 to 64, 36 percent reported a science or engineering major for their bachelor’s degree.
  • The vast majority of workers who have been trained in science and engineering are not currently working in a STEM occupation. Only 26 percent of science and engineering graduates are currently employed in a STEM occupation. Instead, they are employed in fields such as non-STEM management, health care, law, education, social work, accounting, or counseling.

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1 Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, 2010, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5,” National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, The National Academies Press, Washington, DC.
2 America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act, Public Law No: 110-69, August 9, 2007, <www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-110publ69/pdf/PLAW-110publ69.pdf>.
3 Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, 2007, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future,” National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, The National Academies Press, Washington, DC.
4 To learn more about the demographic characteristics of STEM workers, see <www.census.gov/topics/employment/industry-occupation/library/publications.html>.

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