By S. James Gates Jr. and Chad Mirkin
This year a report issued by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, on which we serve, concluded that if the United States is to maintain its historic pre-eminence in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—and gain the social, economic, and national-security benefits that come with such pre-eminence, then we must produce approximately one million more workers in those fields over the next decade than we are on track now to turn out. At first glance, that may seem to be a daunting task—but it doesn’t have to be.
At current rates, American colleges and universities will graduate about three million STEM majors over the next decade, so an increase of one million would require a whopping 33-percent increase. Yet the report’s lofty goal can be seen as quite feasible in the light of two other statistics: First, 60 percent of students who enter college with the goal of majoring in a STEM subject end up graduating in a non-STEM field. And second, reducing attrition in STEM programs by 10 percentage points—so that half of freshmen who enter college with the intention of majoring in one of those fields complete college with a STEM degree—will produce three-quarters of the one million additional graduates within a decade.