ACT Report: High School Graduates Underprepared for STEM Course Work

However, the industry shouldn’t flag the alarm just yet because of one report. The challenges aren’t new, McKinney said, but further indicates that students aren’t equipped with the necessary skills and competencies needed when they graduate high school.

“This is about the leaky pipeline … they are not issues that just show up senior year of high school and then all of a sudden a student is not college-ready for pursuing a STEM major or career path,” said McKinney. “It takes communication between K-12 and higher education, business partnerships and partnerships between education and the business sector as well as federal and state governments. We need a multipronged approach to solving this challenge.”

Colborn said while the 2 percent increase in students interested in computer science and math majors is “moving the needle,” it also signifies the importance of continuing to build the pipeline. And there needs to be a variety of alternatives in doing so.

“Whether it’s engaging with incumbent workers, working with adults who are changing careers or working with folks pursuing postsecondary education, it’s going to be an all of the above type of solution that’s ultimately going to address this issue in a more systematic way,” Colborn said.

The findings of the report are something educators should be concerned about, partly because the jobs that are projected to grow in the next 20 years are those with an increasing reliance on math and technical skills, noted Colborn.

“As talent is retiring from those industries, it’s getting harder and harder to backfill the talent those industries require,” he said.

In addressing the pipeline challenge in high school, Colborn has seen efforts that include paying greater attention to creating career exposure and building career opportunities at the high school level.

“Experience in industries does really help broaden perspectives … one thing that stuck out in the report was the gap between African American and Hispanics and women in terms of their career preferences in STEM. I think a lot of that really stems from the lack of exposure that these populations have [to STEM]” Colborn said. “The more that high schools can do and employers can do to provide high school students with chances to explore career opportunities, do career exploration days on-site and employers to offer internships – all of that helps expose people to the wider opportunities that are available. I think that’s going to be a part of the solution for sure.”  


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