A quality STEM education makes a difference — not only to the students it prepares but to the economy on a domestic and global scale. STEM disciplines foster curiosity and creativity while providing higher salaries and creating high-demand careers. Within the next decade, it is estimated that almost all of the 30 fastest-growing occupations will require at least an intermediate knowledge of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.
So when looking at STEM education statistics in 2019, how does the US rank? Sadly, not so great.
US Student Ranking in STEM Education
Within the past few years, there has been an aggressive push from competing countries such as China and Singapore to drive STEM education and promote the resulting career paths. In 2015, Singapore topped the global Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings in math and science; the US ranked 38th in math and 24th in science.
Likewise, recent data from the Pew Research Centre indicates that the US ranks behind many other industrial countries based on math and science assessments. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) from 2015 noted that 10 countries (out of 48) had higher fourth-grade math scores than the US, and 7 countries had higher science scores.
While it seems that younger students fared better than their older counterparts, consider the following test results:
- The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reported that the average fourth-grade math score in 2015 was 240 (on a scale of 0 to 500), down from 242 in 2013. The average eighth-grade score was 282 in 2015, compared with 285 in 2013; that score was the lowest since 2007.
- In 2015, 24% of fourth-graders, 32% of eighth-graders, and 40% of 12th-graders were rated “below basic” in science.
- In a 2015 Pew Research Center report, only 29% of Americans rated their country’s K-12 education in STEM as above average or the best in the world.
- Members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that just 16% considered American K-12 STEM education above average; 46% said it was below average.
The Brain Drain
Based on STEM education statistics reviewed in 2019, it’s hard to know where we stand in the race to produce future scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. Countries like China, India, and Singapore are currently in the lead; what’s more, they’re sending students to schools in the US to gain the advantage.
In his op-ed piece for Forbes.com, Arthur Herman claims that if the STEM disciplines in post-secondary institutions had to rely on American students alone for enrollments, “they would probably have to shut their doors.”
According to the World Economic Forum, 40% of Chinese graduates finished a degree in STEM – twice the number of American grads. To break it down further:
- China had at least 4.7 million recent STEM grads as of 2016
- India had 2.6 million as of 2017
- The U.S. had 568,000
So, while it’s true that there is an increasing number of STEM grads, a majority of those students are not from the US. In fact, the Kauffman Foundation estimates international students will make up half of all STEM degrees by 2020.
So, what’s the solution? Experts say it isn’t to limit the number of foreign students into our schools. Rather, we need to cultivate a greater interest in STEM programs and careers in the United States.
STEM Education Statistics 2019 – Sources
National Center for Education Statistics
National Assessment of Educational Progress
2015 Pew Research Center report