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Report points to untapped students interested in STEM fields

Posted by Leslie Anderson  February 6, 2014 04:23 PM

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A new report from ACT, the makers of the ACT college entrance exam, suggests that there is a gap between the number of students who are interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields and those who plan to pursue a STEM career.

The report, The Condition of STEM 2013, found that nearly one out of every 10 ACT-tested 2013 graduates who preferred work tasks associated with STEM careers had no plans to pursue a STEM major or career. A total 48 percent of those tested either intended to pursue a STEM major or occupation, or preferred work tasks associated with STEM jobs.

“The good news is that student interest in STEM is high overall,” said Jon Erickson, ACT president of education and career solutions. “The bad news is that a sizable number of students may not be connecting the dots between their innate interests and a potential STEM-related career.”

The findings come after President Barack Obama emphasized the need to train more Americans for STEM jobs in his State of the Union address last month. Reports from the Bayer Corporation’s Facts of Science Education survey and Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology have also suggested that there is—and will continue to be—a shortage of qualified STEM professionals if current trends continue.

“The findings in this new report are supported by those in our recent College Choice Report, which showed that a surprising number of students are planning to pursue majors or careers that don’t match their interests,” said Wayne Camara, ACT senior vice president of research. “If we encourage young students who are interested in STEM to consider related careers, I believe both they and U.S. employers will benefit.”

More than half of the top 50 jobs in U.S. News & World Report's 100 Best Jobs of 2014 are STEM-related.

The ACT report also found a gap in STEM interest and preparation. Of the 2013 ACT-tested graduates who intended to pursue STEM majors and careers, around half were not prepared to succeed in first-year math or science college coursework. Counterparts who also preferred STEM-related tasks were better prepared than those who did not.

“Early assessment and intervention are extremely important in helping students get on track for college and career success, and that’s particularly true in the areas of math and science, where so many of our students are falling behind,” said Erickson. “If we can identify students earlier and then keep them engaged, they may be more likely to choose a STEM career.”

Previous ACT research has shown that when students chose majors that align with their interests, they are more likely to remain in their major, stay in school, and finish in a timely manner.

Maggie Quick can be reached at margaret.quick@globe.com.

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College Bound offers news and advice on preparing, applying, and ultimately heading off to college. Send your ideas and questions to Leslie.Anderson@globe.com. More »
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