Despite a growing need for STEM grads and several initiatives to bolster enrollment, just a minority of U.S. students actually pursue these degrees.
Graduates in STEM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, are in high demand worldwide, and this trend is expected to continue. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, jobs in STEM are expected to rise faster than any other category by 2031.
Nonetheless, data from UNESCO showed that only 19.6% of U.S. graduates chose degrees in STEM in 2022.
In comparison, Malaysia and Tunisia topped all other countries included in this investigation, with 43.5% and 37.9% of young people opting to study STEM, respectively.
Countries that have managed to produce a higher share of STEM graduates than elsewhere are more likely to be found in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and East Asia.
North African countries like Tunisia, Algeria, Mauretania, and Morocco logged 29% or more, due in large part to the prevalence of computer engineering in the region, per ZeroHedge.
In contrast, Western Europe and the Americas had the poorest showings. Only 26% of UK graduates came from STEM majors in 2022, followed by 25% in France and 23% in Spain. Behind the U.S., Brazil ranked lowest with 17.5%.
China was not included in the UNESCO data, and the country’s broad classification of engineering and science fields makes comparison difficult. Nonetheless, in 2014, the National Science Foundation counted 1.6 million Chinese science and engineering graduates, fewer than the number produced in India. In terms of STEM grads in 2022, India logged a solid 34%.
As growth industries such as biotech and digital services continue to expand, they require a steady stream of skilled STEM professionals to become their workforce.
Recognizing the importance of these industries, both the Trump and the Biden administrations have prioritized STEM education in their budgetary decisions. In 2020, $578 million was invested in STEM programs and grants by the U.S. Department of Education.
In late 2022, the “Raise the Bar” initiative was launched to target students from pre-kindergarten to university to provide more STEM learning opportunities, attract higher enrollment figures, and maintain global competitiveness.
STEM professionals’ work — “tomorrow’s jobs,” as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics dubbed them — has great purpose.
“Engineering makes things better and cheaper for everyone,” Patrick Holm, a project civil engineer in Olympia, Washington, explained. “Without it, we couldn’t live in the kind of society we know—with bridges, clean water, and cars.”
If that isn’t enough, they also tend to pay more.
STEM jobs earn an average of $95,420 versus $40,120 for non-STEM occupations in 2021.