Wednesday, November 2, 2011

STEM: Focus more on producing mid-level skill STEM workers

The STEM report released last month by Anthony Carnevale and his team at Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce notes, "The most obvious weaknesses in the American education
system relate to the production of workers, especially STEM workers, at the sub-baccalaureate level. ... More than half of American workers have not obtained any postsecondary certificate or
degree. Yet, American high schools offer very little career and technical education or any substantial on-ramps to postsecondary career and technical education. As a result, students
who don’t get career and technical preparation in high school and don’t succeed in the transition to postsecondary programs are left behind."

We are beginning to see some states develop programs to enhance the number of young adults with the types of skills and credentials the report talks about. A couple examples were adopted this year in the Texas legislature (yes, if you're not sick of hearing me talk about Texas yet you may be soon, as there is plenty to talk about with the numerous innovations they adopted in their 2011 legislative session). H.B. 2910 (see pages 3-5) creates the Texas Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (T-STEM) Challenge Scholarship program. Institutions eligible to participate are public junior colleges and public technical colleges that admit at least 50 students into a STEM program each year and develop partnerships with business and industry to identify local employment needs in STEM fields and provide part-time jobs for students in a STEM program.

Eligible students must have graduated high school with at least a 3.0 GPA in math and science courses (I wonder if this also applies to applied math and science courses--the legislation doesn't specify this) and agree to work up to 15 hours a week at a participating business. To keep the maximum two-year scholarship, a student must stay enrolled in a STEM program at the institution, maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA, keep up the ≤ 15 hours of work/week at the business, complete at least 80% of credits attempted each semester, and earn at least 30 credit hours each academic year. Institutions, to maintain their eligibility beginning with the 2nd year after program implementation, must show the higher education coordinating board that at least 70% of the T-STEM Challenge Scholarship graduates, within 3 months of graduation, are employed by a business in a STEM field or enrolled in upper-division courses leading to a 4-year degree in a STEM field.

The catch is that at least 50% of the scholarship funds must come from private funds. Will businesses pony up scholarship funds in a difficult economy, in hopes that students will pan out as employees? Or will businesses be fearful that students will jump ship and work for the company down the road after gaining two years of work experience during their degree program? It is intriguing, though, that the program does allow students to get their feet wet in a STEM field while they are still working toward their degree--so that they know whether the field is a fit for them before they complete their credential.

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