Only 1 in 4 students graduating with a degree in science, technology, engineering or math find a job in a one of those fields, according to a report recently released by the Census Bureau.
The report's main finding may sound some alarms: Is the STEM shortage a myth? Why can't STEM graduates find jobs? Are there too many STEM graduates to meet the demand?
As with most data stories, there is more than meets the headline on this report.
The "big picture" number of 1 in 4 students is misleading because the study includes psychology, multidisciplinary students and social science degrees (think: economics, anthropology, sociology or political science). These degrees aren't traditionally considered to be science, math, engineering or technology degrees, so it's not surprising that few students with these degrees enter STEM occupations.
Students with these degrees usually don't expect or desire to go into a STEM field, according to Ray Angle, Director of University Career Services at University of North Carolina.
"We know that students who major in psychology go into a variety of different things and we expect that," Angle said. "And I would say it is probably less common for a psychology major to kind of leap over into a STEM-related career field."
Ten percent of psychology majors and 7 percent of social science graduates were employed in STEM – the lowest in the study.
Among traditional STEM degrees, the numbers were higher. About half of engineering, math, computer science and statistics majors went on to jobs in STEM fields. Twenty-six percent of physical science majors and 15 percent of biological, environmental and agricultural sciences majors were employed in STEM.
Despite strange inclusions on both sides of this report, the study shows STEM skills to be in demand. STEM majors go into a variety of occupations to use these skills and have some of the lowest unemployment rates among college graduates, according to the report.
For computer science, math and statistics, 3.5 percent of graduates were unemployed. Science- and engineering-related degrees had an unemployment rate of 2.6 percent and biological, agricultural and environmental sciences had a rate of 2.8 percent. The lowest rate in the study was actually for education majors, though, at 2.5 percent.
No matter what occupation they choose, Angle said, STEM skills are in demand. There are many occupations not considered STEM occupations where STEM graduates use skills learned in their degrees, especially with an explosion in the need for graduates with data skills.
“A person who is in the sciences is analyzing data," Angle said. "So I think analytical, problem solving skills, math and science basics, maybe statistics, all of that. I think those are very transferable from STEM to looking at data, analyzing data, making big picture decisions. [STEM graduates] are analyzing [data] and giving it to managers, let’s say, who are making the big decisions. So, they’re looking at correlations or they’re looking at trends."
Computer science and engineering students, in particular, are in demand. Statistics from the international recruiting firm Yoh show that there is a low supply of potential candidates with the necessary qualifications and degree compared with the demand for computer scientists. In numbers pulled for U.S. News & World Report, Yoh found 189,360 current job openings for computer science graduates, most seeking skills with SQL, software development, Java, Linux or quality assurance. Angle also says he sees a demand for CS majors that is unmatched with other STEM fields.
"We almost can’t graduate enough computer science majors for the need that’s out there," he says. "There I would say our supply is much shorter than our demand. I would say we’re a step down for our physical sciences, biology, physics, chemistry. I would say that there’s demand, but there’s a different type of demand. It’s not coming from employers who can forecast a year out, 'Oh, I need 100 computer science majors,' to say 'I need 100 biology majors.'"
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