“At the same time, more of the very best students are attracted to non-science occupations, such as finance. Even so, there is no evidence of a long-term decline in the proportion of American students with the relevant training and qualifications to pursue STEM jobs,” he added.

Lowell and Salzman examined the percentage of students who stayed in the STEM pipeline, the percent of graduates who secured STEM jobs, and the “best and brightest” performing STEM students over 30 years.

Lowell said longitudinal data suggest a decline in first job holding among U.S. STEM graduates in the late 1990s during an employment boom, which could mean that STEM workers other than U.S. students made up part of the STEM workforce.

Although data gathered in preparation for the report cannot fully explain the loss of high-performing students from the STEM pipeline, the evidence does suggest that students are not leaving the STEM pathway owing to a lack of preparation or ability–and it indicates there might be factors other than educational preparation or student ability.

“This research is part of a larger study project that tries to assess commonly heard claims,” Lowell said, including claims that U.S. students are losing interest in STEM fields, students are not prepared for STEM careers, and the U.S. has a shortage of STEM workers.

Although the overall STEM supply seems stable, the report theorizes that the decline in retention of top STEM performers might indicate that top high school graduates are no longer interested in STEM fields or that a future in a STEM-related career is not attractive for some reason.

The decline could be the result of a loss of interest, the report says, or it might be that STEM fields are responding to market forces and incentives. Alternatively, students who earned STEM degrees might opt for non-STEM fields owing to larger salaries or other issues.


“Steady as She Goes? Three Generations of Students through the Science and Engineering Pipeline”

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