How to Make Science and Tech Jobs More Enticing to Undergrads

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Despite studying science, technology, engineering or math, many students avoid STEM careers.

Higher salaries, improved status and apprenticeships would change that.

The number of U.S. undergraduate degrees being awarded in most STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) has risen steadily in recent years{link to G Sci page}. Yet some American employers say they are having trouble finding candidates to fill STEM jobs. The mismatch is not occurring because of an actual shortage of graduates; the numbers of job openings and new degree holders align fairly closely. And the shortfall is not because more foreign-born students are returning home after earning U.S. degrees, as has been rumored lately.

The mismatch is occurring because people with STEM degrees are choosing jobs in other fields that pay more or have higher perceived status, according to Nicole Smith, senior economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “Biology students become doctors; math majors go into finance,” she explains. Others get MBAs so they will be recruited for management positions, where they can make more money, in part to pay off high student loans.

Smith says several steps could make STEM jobs more attractive to students. Raising salaries in certain disciplines would clearly help. Starting wages in computer science and engineering have increased steadily over time, for example, but wages in biology have not. Notably, the number of women entering college is rising faster than the number of men, and female students tend to take biology over computer science or engineering, so raising biology salaries could be particularly helpful.

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