States Increase Focus on STEM Education

Published September 28, 2015

Education policymakers have been placing increased emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), implementing several national education initiatives and state policies within the past year supporting the implementation and funding of programs and disciplines in the category the U.S. Department of Education designates as Career and Technical Education.

The Education Commission of the States (ECS) tracks state policies specifically mentioning STEM, Career and Technical Education, and STEM careers. ECS started in 1965 and tracks state policy trends, translates academic research, and provides advice for state leaders to learn from one another.

States have been recruiting more STEM teachers, rewarding students majoring in STEM subjects with tuition help or loan payback, and dedicating state funding streams in Colorado, New York, and Rhode Island to support the Pathways to Technology early college model, according to Jennifer Zinth, director of high school and STEM at ECS.

“There is a proliferation of new [STEM] jobs, new occupations, and employers saying they can’t find folks to fill these jobs,” Zinth said. “There must be better alignment between K-12 education and [workforce demands].”

“Employment in occupations related to STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—is projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022. That’s an increase of about 1 million jobs over 2012 employment levels,” according to the 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report “STEM 101: Intro to Tomorrow’s Jobs.”

A 2014 Brookings Institution study examined the difficulties in filling STEM jobs nationally. “Still Searching: Job Vacancies and STEM Skills” by Jonathan Rothwell finds, “A detailed analysis of these data show that the difficulty of filling vacant positions increases as the level of STEM knowledge increases.” The study looked at a database from the labor market information company Burning Glass and other sources to analyze the skill requirements and the advertisement duration time for millions of job openings.

Strong STEM-literate Workforce

“The job market is predicated on a strong, viable workforce that is STEM-literate,” said Jan Morrison, president and CEO of the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM.

“It used to be you had to decide whether you would go to work or to school, and now there are all these Career and Technical Education pathways,… technical work and learning and often doing it simultaneously with a lifetime of stackable credentials,” said Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart. “I’m excited about those pathways.”

Computer code schools, coding boot camps, General Assembly (an ed-tech school), and Flat Iron (an ed-tech school) and Bloc (a coding boot camp) are all great examples of highly intensive, short-term, typically certificate-oriented ways to learn front-end or back-end computer coding, Vander Ark says.

“I think STEM is now firmly in ‘2.0,’” Morrison said. “It is not relegated to the auspices of an education program or vision but is responsive to our country’s call for the advancement of an economic basis … to be globally founded, and therefore we need an innovative workforce.”

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.

Image by Julie Lindsay.

Internet Info

Jonathan Rothwell, Still Searching: Job Vacancies and STEM Skills,” Brookings Institution, July 1, 2014:

“STEM 101: Intro to Tomorrow’s Jobs,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014: