New open-source program could help boost STEM enrollment

State and local education officials have a new tool to help them predict which investments will pay dividends as they try to boost the number of college graduates who major in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The open-source program, called the U.S. STEM Educational Model, was developed by defense company Raytheon with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It aims to help officials analyze how they should allocate precious resources as they seek to increase the number of STEM-related graduates, thereby bolstering the science and engineering workforce. The computer-based model will simulate how schools can draw students to STEM fields most effectively. The program reportedly can test more than 200 variables that could better inform policy makers about how programs should be funded. The model measures graduation and dropout rates, gender gaps in STEM fields, teacher and STEM industry salaries, and educator attrition rates, among other factors. The tool can be downloaded free of charge. However, Vensim Simulation Software from Ventana Systems is required to run the tool on personal computers. The Vensim program is available in a free read-only version; if users want to manipulate the model, they will need to purchase a version of the Vensim PLE Plus software, which costs $169.