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STEM Graduates Choose Other Careers

Solid numbers of STEM students are graduating from schools, but they’re rejecting science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers for those in other fields. So says a new paper by researchers at Georgetown and Rutgers universities.


Funded by the science-focused Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the study corrects a commonly belief that too few students are studying STEM subjects. Data collected from the early 1970s through 2003 reveal a consistently strong supply of STEM graduates from high school and college — at times even outstripping available jobs. Yet the highest-achieving students did not join STEM-related professions, particularly during a period of sudden decline in the mid- to late- 1990s.

The researchers offered suggestions as to why the best students leave STEM fields, including better pay and greater stability in other careers. Graduates also may be joining professions not identified at STEM-related occupations – patent law, medical sales, management of a solar energy firm – for which they still use their technology skills and knowledge.

The study, Steady as She Goes? Three Generations of Students Though the Science and Engineering Pipeline, seems to indicate that industry must do a better job attracting and retaining talented STEM students. As Microsoft chairman Bill Gates pointed out in testimony before the U.S. Congressional Committee on Science and Technology in March 2008, the issue is less about increasing wages than about inspiring students about the tremendous social impact of STEM-work – a message the National Academy of Engineering has also been supporting.

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