Higher Education: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Trends and the Role of Federal Programs Page: 2 of 23
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Highlights of GAO-06-702T, a report to
Committee on Education and the
Workforce, House of Representatives
Why GAO Did This Study
The United States is a world leader
in scientific and technological
innovation. To help maintain this
advantage, the federal government
has spent billions of dollars on
education programs in the science,
technology, engineering, and
mathematics (STEM) fields for
many years. However, concerns
have been raised about the nation's
ability to maintain its global
advantage in the future.
This testimony is based on our
October 2005 report and presents
information on (1) trends in degree
attainment in STEM- and non-
STEM-related fields and factors
that may influence these trends,
(2) trends in the levels of
employment in STEM- and non-
STEM- related fields and factors
that may influence these trends,
and (3) federal education programs
intended to support the study of
and employment in STEM-related
fields. For this report, we analyzed
survey responses from 13 civilian
federal departments and agencies;
analyzed data from the
Departments of Education and
Labor; interviewed educators,
federal agency officials, and
representatives from education
associations and organizations; and
To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Cornelia M.
Ashby at (202) 512-7215 or
Science, Technology, Engineering, and
Mathematics Trends and the Role of
What GAO Found
While postsecondary enrollment has increased over the past decade, the
proportion of students obtaining degrees in STEM fields has fallen. In
academic year 1994-1995, about 519,000 students (32 percent) obtained
STEM degrees. About 578,000 students obtained STEM degrees in academic
year 2003-2004, accounting for 27 percent of degrees awarded. Despite
increases in enrollment and degree attainment by women and minorities at
the graduate level, the number of graduate degrees conferred fell in several
STEM-related fields from academic year 1994-1995 to academic year 2003-
2004. College and university officials and students most often cited subpar
teacher quality and poor high school preparation as factors that discouraged
the pursuit of STEM degrees. Suggestions to encourage more enrollment in
STEM fields include increased outreach and mentoring.
The past decade has seen an increase in STEM employees, particularly in
mathematics and computer science. From 1994 to 2003, employment in
STEM fields increased by an estimated 23 percent, compared to 17 percent
in non-STEM fields. Mathematics and computer science showed the highest
increase in STEM-related employment, and employment in science-related
fields increased as well. However, in certain STEM fields, including
engineering, the number of employees did not increase significantly. Further,
while the estimated number of women, African-Americans, and Hispanic-
Americans employed in STEM fields increased, women and minorities
remained underrepresented relative to their numbers in the civilian labor
force. The number of foreign workers employed in the United States has
fluctuated, experiencing declines in 2002 and 2003. Key factors affecting
STEM employment decisions include mentoring for women and minorities
and opportunities abroad for foreign employees.
Thirteen federal civilian agencies spent approximately $2.8 billion in fiscal
year 2004 to fund over 200 programs designed to increase the numbers of
students in STEM fields and employees in STEM occupations and to improve
related educational programs. The funding reported for individual STEM
education programs varied significantly, and programs most commonly
provided financial support to students or infrastructure support to
institutions. However, only half of these programs had been evaluated or had
evaluations underway, and coordination among STEM education programs
was limited. It is important to know the extent to which existing STEM
education programs target the right people and the right areas and make the
best use of available resources. Since our report was issued in October 2005,
Congress, in addition to establishing new grants to encourage students from
low-income families to enroll in STEM fields, established an Academic
Competitiveness Council to identify, evaluate, coordinate, and improve
federal STEM programs.
United States Government Accountability Office
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Higher Education: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Trends and the Role of Federal Programs, text, May 3, 2006; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc292953/m1/2/: accessed April 26, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.