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October 30, 2009

Career Track

Students who study science don't always stay in the field

Kenneth Moore

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U.S. students who receive degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) are being lured away from the field by more lucrative jobs, a recent study suggests. The finding challenges the perception of a shortage of STEM-trained graduates in the U.S.

The overall proportion of high school graduates who earn bachelor's degrees in STEM fields has remained constant at 8 to 10% from 1972 to 2005, the study finds. But STEM graduates are pursuing more diverse jobs, the data indicate.

"There are no changes in the supply of STEM students," said Harold Salzman, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University. Salzman and B. Lindsay Lowell, director of policy studies at Georgetown University, discussed their findings at a press conference last week. Seeking evidence of a long-term decline in the proportion of U.S. students qualified for STEM employment, they used government data for the period to track students from high school through mid-career employment.

About half of STEM graduates find employment in STEM fields, and about half of those remain in STEM to the midcareer level. STEM-trained individuals are moving to more competitive and higher paying fields, such as management or finance, the researchers suggest. "Sizable proportions of people end up not doing what they were trained for," Lowell said.

The report is available online at

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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