It seems these days we are constantly hearing about how there is a severe scarcity of people in the United States prepared for jobs in STEM fields. As a result, heated debate ensues about the extent to which STEM should be represented in education. The school has recently added several new classes in STEM subject areas and has spent a large amount of money on equipment for STEM classes. These developments in STEM are positive and do not necessarily come at the expense of other, more important initiatives.
Before trying to tackle the debate over whether or not additional STEM funding at the local level is a good thing, one must understand the issue in a broader context. The debate starts with the so-called “STEM shortage.” There is difficulty in proving whether there is or is not a shortage of individuals qualified for STEM careers, as there are a number of studies that show that it does, but an equal or greater number that contend that it does not. It is not for lack of good research that there is conflicting data; the fact of the matter is that the problem is difficult to quantify. The projections that are made regarding the growth of the STEM labor market are “plagued by uncertain assumptions and are notoriously difficult to make,” according to a 2012 workforce study conducted by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
So, it is entirely unclear whether there actually is a shortage of people qualified to work in STEM in the United States. However, the reasons why there might not be such a shortage are fairly convincing: According to principles of supply and demand, if there was a shortage of STEM workers, wages would increase to follow the market trend. But, STEM wages have been largely stagnant since the early 2000s, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute. It also makes sense that the tech industry would perpetuate the idea that there is a shortage, even if there is not one, so that firms can minimize the pay they give to the engineers, scientists and mathematicians they employ. Additionally, in 2007, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, suggested that more skilled immigrants should be granted visas, in order to “suppress wages” for the skilled workers trained here in the United States. It is in the interests of both businesses and Washington for the perception of a STEM shortage to exist, which makes for a powerful influence on policy.
The influence has been tremendous: the U.S. government spends over $3 billion each year on “STEM-related initiatives,” according to the Government Accountability Office.
Moreover, dumping money into STEM education at the national level, particularly in primary and secondary education, at the expense of the humanities can be detrimental to students even in today’s tech-oriented economy. The skills that are developed by the study of subjects like the English and history are critically important and cannot be overlooked for the sake of short-sighted economic incentives.
According to the CEO of Lockheed Martin, Norman Augustine, “In my position as CEO of a firm employing over 80,000 engineers, I can testify that most were excellent engineers…But the factor that most distinguished those who advanced in the organization was the ability to think broadly and read and write clearly.”
But the decision to fund STEM related initiatives at the district level—like the $350,000 the MVLA Foundation has spent on new equipment for science classes—is a very different conversation than whether STEM should be prioritized at the national level. There are significant problems with federal overspending in STEM, as it is pushing students to pursue a career in a field in where there are significantly more qualified individuals than job openings. But, evaluating STEM classes being added and money being spent on locally at a high school is fundamentally different.
Speaking from a purely anecdotal standpoint there does seem to be a high demand for the new math and science classes that have been added. It is also important to realize that where we live; it is hardly a difficult conclusion to draw that many students would be interested in additional science and technology related classes in a region with tech firms on every block. Just because there is a larger national issue surrounding pushing money into STEM, does not mean that those who are truly interested in it should not pursue it, or that the school should avoid spending money on giving these students the opportunity to do so. It seems that the money is being spent exactly the way it should be, since the recent expenditures seem to reflect the desires of the donors and students, and improve the diversity and quality of education that we have at our disposal.