STEM Index posts overall increase, but reveals ongoing challenges. More needs to be done to expand opportunity.

Mixed news today in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) world.

Like shoes and smartphones, America is importing more and more of its future STEM workforce.

The 2016 U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index recorded a slight rise in hiring, education and general interest in technology and engineering over last year, while math education and general interest in science declined. The biggest growth occurred at the graduate level, but despite years of investment in attracting more American students to STEM, that expansion was not homegrown.

That parallels reports we’ve cited about the Seattle tech economy, which relies heavily on imported talent, both international and from domestic migration.

U.S. News reports that where we might have expected progress in closing demographic gaps, problems persist.

Gaps between men and women, and between whites and minorities, also remained entrenched. As the number of white students who earned STEM degrees grew 15 percent in the last five years, the number of black students fell by roughly the same margin, the index found.

Women’s interest in STEM also decreased slightly since last year.


There were some strides in the past year, the Index determined: Hispanic students earned more STEM degrees at every level than last year, and both black and Hispanic students expressed greater interest in engineering and technology.

And while students’ scores on Advanced Placement exams fell slightly, the results may have to do with simple math: More students are taking the tests.

There’s a wealth of data in the report, too much and too nuanced for a quick summary here. We recommend reading the whole thing for a comprehensive picture of STEM nationally. In our foundation report, we noted the importance of STEM education in the evolving tech economy.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) examined the skills gap in Washington state in 2013. BCG found “approximately 25,000 ‘acute’ unfilled jobs in Washington as a result of the skills gap. Approximately 80 percent of those openings are in highly skilled STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines…”

The Seattle Times reports today that Seattle is the third best city nationally for job seekers, with all of the top-ranked cities being tech centers. Being a magnet for in-migration is good, no doubt, but filling the skills gap with qualified in-state workers remains a priority. 

We wrote Monday of the disruptive power of technological change and how places new demands on education, a theme further developed in a Washington Research Council post

In Governing magazine, Aaron M. Renn addresses the challenges of deindustrialization and the displaced worker.

Researchers at Oxford University estimate that nearly half of all U.S. jobs are at risk of being lost due to automation in the next 20 years…

His article is more diagnostic than prescriptive, but again raises the issue of how best to help those left behind in the transition. 

We believe our roadmap for shared expanding the state’s culture of opportunity provides solid policy direction for making sure Washingtonians have the education, skills and career opportunities necessary to thrive in this dynamic era.