In the past few years, Michigan has roared back to life as a magnet for STEM jobs like engineering, and the state's employers are right to wonder if they will be able to fill those jobs with qualified people. Fortunately, we see strong signs that Michigan leaders are on the case.
On Tuesday, I was honored to testify before Michigan's House Education Reform Committee about Change the Equation's efforts to help the state identify and scale K-12 STEM education programs that are most likely to have an impact. CTEq's STEMworks has already helped rigorously-vetted programs, such as Engineering is Elementary and Project Lead the Way, receive $1 million in state funds. We have high hopes for much more to come.
Efforts like these are very timely. For a state that was ground zero in the Great Recession, Michigan has an uplifing story to tell about STEM jobs. For example, it has been a great place for engineers. The number of engineering jobs in the state grew 11 percent from 2006 and 2016, compared to a meager 2 percent for the nation as a whole. Engineering jobs will probably grow another 13 percent between 2016 and 2026, faster than the 11 percent projected for the nation. That amounts to tens of thousands of engineering jobs.
Will employers be able to find the engineering talent they need over the coming decade? That's a harder question to answer. There is some reason for concern. First, they cannot fully tap the state's minority talent. Black, Latinos, and American Indian Michiganders make up 23 percent of the state's college-age population but receive only 5 percent of engineering degrees and certificates:
Women are almost as scarce in the field:
There's good news on the horizon: In late 2015, the state adopted academic standards in science that formally incorporate engineering principles. If other states that have adoped similar standards are any indication, all Michigan students, regardless of race or gender, will soon learn the fundamental principles of engineering.
Programs like those in STEMworks will only help.
On October 26, we shared some good news about degrees in computer science and engineering: Since the recession, they grew much faster than degrees and certificates overall. Today, we take a closer look at students of color in those fields, and we have at least some good news to share--mixed with much that should concern us.
For every race, the number of bachelor’s and advanced degrees in computer science and engineering has grown faster than the overall population between 18 and 24. In other words, your typical black, Latino, or white person of college age was more likely to earn one of these degrees in 2015 than in 2001. On balance, that’s good news for everyone.
Of course, it’s far too soon to declare victory, because a small number degrees can grow by a large percentage and still be a small number of degrees.
The more important question is whether people of color are earning degrees in proportion to their share of the population. In the best of all possible worlds, for example, Latinos would earn 21 percent of degrees, because they comprise 21 percent of the college-age population.
The reality falls far short of that ideal, but there are glimmers of hope.
For African Americans, the picture in computer science is mixed. The share of bachelor’s degrees they receive has fallen off since the high point of 2007, but new data suggest that their share of master’s degrees surged for almost a decade before retreating somewhat after 2013. African Americans are actually overrepresented among Americans who receive master’s degrees.[i]
Why? A report in Science Magazine cited this trend in Master’s degrees as early as 2011 and speculated that efforts to attract more African Americans into computer science graduate degrees were bearing fruit. That may well be true, but disappointing trends in bachelor’s degrees will surely thwart further progress in advanced degrees.
Alas, it is hard to find much good news about African Americans in engineering. Their share of bachelor’s degrees has declined slightly since 2005, and their share of master’s degrees has barely kept pace with population growth.
This problem may arise from the fact that African American students have limited access to advanced high school classes—like calculus—that can be gateways to engineering in college.
Latinos earn a smaller share of computer science degrees than African Americans do, but they are making steady, albeit slow, gains, mostly at the bachelor’s level.
If you look hard, you can see the gap between Latinos' share of bachelor's degrees (the dark blue line) and their share of the population (the red line) narrowing, especially after 2009. Since that year, Latinos’ share of bachelor’s degrees has risen roughly 2 ½ percentage points while their share of the population rose by less than a percentage point. In the previous six years, their share of bachelor's degrees had risen more slowly--roughly 1 ½ percentage points.
Latinos are also making gains in engineering:
Their share of bachelor’s degrees has risen almost four percentage points since 2007, roughly twice as fast as their share of the population over the same period. Master’s degrees have seen nearly parallel gains since 2009.
Why have Latinos gained in some areas where African Americans have been treading water? It’s hard to say without more evidence. More research could help us learn from our successes and replicate them.
Despite some encouraging signs, it’s hardly time to pop the champagne corks. If the pace of change doesn’t pick up, it would take more than a decade for Latinos to close engineering gaps, and even longer for them to close computer science gaps. African Americans would never close the gaps in bachelor’s-level engineering and computer science.
Yes, we have made some progress, but minority students’ current K-12 experience will impose a low ceiling on that progress. As CTEq’s state-by-state Vital Signs website demonstrates, students of color still have the least access to the resources, facilities, and classes that best prepare students for college-level STEM.
There are carefully-vetted strategies and programs that can help students overcome hurdles like these. For dozens of programs that can prove they’re making a difference, take a look at CTEq's STEMworks honor roll of effective STEM education programs. For all their accomplishments, programs like these are not going to close the gaps unless the nation rallies around them with the public and private commitment and resources they need to reach many more young people.
Incremental progress just won’t do as long as STEM literacy remains a gatekeeper to individual and national prosperity.
Stay tuned next week for the most recent data on women in computer science and engineering.
Some of the best known (and coolest!) scientists, mathematicians, and engineers come from the big screen. And whether you realize it or not, these fictional characters shape ideas about who should pursue STEM and who shouldn't. Marvel, the popular superhero comic book and box office hit creator, takes that mind-shaping responsibility quite seriously. This month, expect to see some super smart and diverse superheroes on the comic book stands. With these new takes on classic heroes, Marvel cleverly sends a message that celebrates the breadth of STEM fields while encouraging an untapped market's interest in those fields through relatable characters. Marvel is helping to save the STEM universe, one comic book cover at a time!
“Our characters have been exciting fans for ages,” says the senior vice president of print, sales, and marketing, David Gabriel. “With our new STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics] Variants, we plan to continue to motivate our fans to explore their passions in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math and present these disciplines through some of our favorite young heroes who are doing just that--following their dreams and preparing for the challenges that await them ahead.”
The STEM-themed covers feature some of your old favorites with an inclusive twist—like bi-racial Spider Man Miles Morales, Korean American Amadeus Cho as Hulk, and Tony Stark’s Iron Man successor 15-year-old African-American science genius Riri
“[Riri’s character and story are] inspired by the world around me and not seeing that represented enough in popular culture,” says Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis.Williams. Also, expect introductions to new characters like GwenPool and Moon Girl. Marvel has evolved both the look and the stories of their comic book characters to better reflect today’s world. The creators seek to spark the academic genius in the leaders of tomorrow—no matter what those geniuses look like and where they come from.
As the next generation prepares to tackle the world’s toughest challenges, Marvel’s efforts to engage everyone through fiction bring us one step closer to STEMspiring many more young minds.
Photos provided courtesy of Marvel.com
This morning, The Nation's Report Card released good news. Since 2009, the nation's science scores rose in both fourth and eighth grades. Even more encouraging, black and Latino students gained on their peers, narrowing some of the gaps in student performance that have bedeviled education reformers for decades. Yet poor and minority students continue to lag far behind.
CTEq took a closer look at the new data, and what we found was unfortunately all too familiar. In 2015, the schools and teachers that serve the nation's poor and minority students still have have the least access to the materials and equipment students need to succeed in science.
They are more likely to attend classes with teachers who say they lack resources to succeed:
Poor and minority students are also most likely to attend schools that lack supplies and equipment for science labs:
These data are new, but the story they tell is not. Poor and minority students have long been last in line for opportunities to learn, and the new data show that we have yet to solve this problem. We can certainly take heart from the fact that test scores have risen somewhat over the past six years, but it is hard to imagine closing achievement gaps entirely without addressing these gaps in opportunity.
Fortunately, there are at least glimmers of hope. Top-flight science education programs CTEq has vetted through its STEMworks honor roll are already giving teachers the professional development and hands-on materials they need to succeed. (For two examples of STEMworks programs that have expanded to new communities in recent years, see ASSET STEM Education and the Science for Public Education Project). In addition, some schools are testing innovative approaches like virtual reality science labs that give students hands-on exposure to cutting-edge science, all without expensive equipment.
Programs and initiatives like these might contain the seeds of a new breakthrough for the nation's most disadvantaged children. it's time for the country to rally around them.
Research makes strong connections between college performance and Advanced Placement (AP) test scores. In general, those who do well on AP exams do better in college than those who do not do well on the exams. Hispanic test takers in particular are 28 percent more likely to succeed in college. How's that for closing the achievement gap?
Source: Center for Studies in Higher Education, The Role of Advanced Placement and Honors Courses in College Admissions, 2004. http://www.cshe.berkeley.edu/publications/role-advanced-placement-and-honors-courses-college-admissions