Students like STEM but don’t succeed

Nearly half of  students say they’re interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields — including health care — when they start college, but few will earn a STEM degree, according to a Complete College America report.

Forty-eight percent of recent ACT takers express interest in a STEM major, reports ACT. Forty-one percent of new four-year students and 45 percent of two-year students choose a STEM major, including health sciences, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. Four-year students favor health science, biological science and engineering, while two-year students are interested in health sciences and computer science.

Most don’t make it.

Among 4-year students, 57% of students who choose health sciences and 59% who choose computer science never complete a credential in that field.  The problem is more profound at 2-year colleges where 58% of health science and 72% of computer science students leave the program without a credential.

Those who stick with STEM complete college-level math in their first year, the report finds. Quitters don’t. They also complete few science courses.

Complete College America proposes scheduling college-level math and a majority of STEM courses in the first year to keep students on track. That will help only if students are prepared to pass college math, which many are not.

Nursing is a dream career for many young women from working-class families. Perhaps their brothers dream of being computer techs. It takes a strong foundation in math and science to turn those dreams into reality.

Is the STEM shortage a myth?

On the Big Bang Theory, physicist Sheldon visits neuroscientist Amy in her lab.

The shortage of scientists and engineers is a myth, writes Michael S. Teitelbaum in The Atlantic.  If there were a real shortage, wages would be rising, he writes. To the contrary, “real wages in many—but not all—science and engineering occupations have been flat or slow-growing, and unemployment as high or higher than in many comparably-skilled occupations.”

U.S. students earn mediocre scores on international exams because large numbers of high performers are balanced by lots of low performers, he argues. 

. . . there continues to be a large pool of top science and math students in the U.S. OECD data on “high-performing” students suggests that the U.S. produces about 33 percent of the world total in this category in the sciences, though only about 14 percent in mathematics.

“Every high school graduate should be competent in science and mathematics — essential to success in almost any 21st century occupation and to informed citizenship as well,” he writes. But that doesn’t mean there’s a huge unmet demand for scientists and engineers.  

The STEM shortage myth is a myth, responds Robert D. Atkinson in the Washington Monthly‘s College Guide. Science and engineering graduates are finding jobs — not just in tech-based industries — at higher wages.

As the Brookings Institution’s Jonathan Rothwell shows, the earnings premium for STEM skills (controlling for experience, education and sex) has grown from around 22 percent in 1990 to 30 percent in 2012. Dartmouth’s Matt Slaughter and UC San Diego’s Gordon Hanson found that “the inflation-adjusted wages of major STEM occupations grew over the last decade while real wages for most other U.S. occupations fell.” Hardly evidence of surplus.

STEM shortage denial is rooted in a desire to keep out high-tech immigrants, Atkinson argues.

You can’t go wrong with a computer science major, writes Yahoo’s Rick Newman, looking at PayScale’s 2014 College Report. 

Only two of 288 schools that offer computer science — Indiana University-Purdue and Virginia Commonwealth — produced a return below the median for their graduates. At the top of the scale, meanwhile, more than a dozen computer-science schools returned $1 million or more over 20 years, making this the top-performing field.

By contrast, the return-on-investment for business majors varies depending on the college, he points out. “At nine schools, including Fayetteville State in North Carolina, the University of Montevallo in Alabama and Colorado Mesa University, students studying business actually earned a negative return, according to PayScale. That means they would have done better, on average, if they went to work right out of high school and never spent money on college.”

The earnings data relies on self-reporting, so be wary.

In This is Not Your Father’s STEM Job, Jessica Lahey looks at women who are “forging novel, interdisciplinary, STEM-based careers that blur categories and transcend agenda.”

But are they typical of female STEM workers? Probably not.

LEGO kid builds cheap Braille printer

The Braigo, a low-cost Braille print, was built out of a $350 set of LEGO MINDSTORMS.A California seventh grader has built a low-cost Braille printer out of LEGOs, reports the New York Daily News.

Shubham Banerjee, 12, used a $350 LEGO Mindstorms set, modifying a robot model to make a “Braigo” printer. Basic Braille printers retail for about $2,000 online.

“This is so easy, even my little sister can do it,” Shubham says in a YouTube video.

When his family received an appeal to help the blind, Banerjee decided to get creative. He plans to be an engineer, scientist or surgeon.

Where the money is — and isn’t

NPR charts The Most (And Least) Lucrative College Majors.

Erin Ford graduated from the University of Texas two years ago with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering. Recruiters came to campus to woo her. She got a paid summer internship, which turned into a full-time job after she graduated. Now, at age 24, she makes $110,000 a year.

Michael Gardner just graduated from City College in New York with a degree in psychology. He applied for more than 100 jobs, had trouble getting interviews and worked at Home Depot to make ends meet. “Every single day while I was at work, I’m thinking, ‘I just hope I really don’t get stuck.’ ” Gardner just got a job earning $36,000 a year as a case worker — and he feels lucky to have it.

There are no surprises in the high-earnings chart. On the low side, a health/medical prep degree doesn’t pay well because it requires graduate work.

Income by major

Why does Mr. Snuffleupagus snuffle?

Sesame Street is trying to teach nature, math, science and engineering ideas to preschoolers, reports the New York Times.

. . . (A cow) made it up the stairs to the beauty parlor but now, her bouffant piled high, she’s stuck. Cows can go up stairs, she moans, but not down.

Enter Super Grover 2.0. Out from his bottomless “utility sock” comes an enormous ramp, which, as the cow cheerily notes before clomping on down, is “a sloping surface that goes from high to low.”

It’s not about the letter C or the number 7  any more. Now Sesame Street is tackling “topics like how a pulley works or how to go about investigating what’s making Mr. Snuffleupagus sneeze,” reports the Times.

Zach Hyman

Murray Monster, shown here attending Robo Fun School, appears in science-focused segments with children.

Super Grover 2.0 “uses magnets, springs and ‘superpowers’ of investigation, observation and reporting to solve problems through trial and error. Before settling on a ramp for the stuck cow, for instance, he tries a trampoline.”

Last season, Elmo began starring in a daily musical that incorporates math.

On Sept. 24, Sesame Workshop will launch “Little Discoverers: Big Fun With Science, Math and More” on the web site. “In one game, little fingers manipulate a virtual spring to launch pieces of trash into Oscar the Grouch’s trash can, a Sesame Street version of ‘Angry Birds’.”

Higher ed pays — for engineers, nurses

Higher education pays — for technical graduates, concludes a new study. However, “The S in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is oversold,” the report found. Biology and chemistry majors can expect to earn as little as liberal arts majors.

Vo-tech joins the 21st century

Vo-tech, now known as career technical education, isn’t for low achievers any more, but the stigma remains.

High schoolers learn do-it-yourself engineering at a community college’s STEM summer camp.

‘Holistic’ admissions at Berkeley

When California voters barred the use of racial or ethnic preferences in college admissions, the University of California vowed to use a “holistic” process that considers socioeconomic disadvantages, leadership and motivation, as well as grades and test scores. As a reader of applications for Berkeley’s engineering department, Ruth Starkman saw the holistic process at work, she writes in the New York Times.

A highly qualified student, with a 3.95 unweighted grade point average and 2300 on the SAT, was not among the top-ranked engineering applicants to the University of California, Berkeley. He had perfect 800s on his subject tests in math and chemistry, a score of 5 on five Advanced Placement exams, musical talent and, in one of two personal statements, had written a loving tribute to his parents, who had emigrated from India.

The applicant was a 2 on a 1-to-5 scale (1 being highest) because he didn’t have enough extracurricular activities and engineering awards, she learned in training.

Now consider a second engineering applicant, a Mexican-American student with a moving, well-written essay but a 3.4 G.P.A. and SATs below 1800. His school offered no A.P. He competed in track when not at his after-school job, working the fields with his parents. His score? 2.5.

Readers were told to told to ignore minority background, but could consider whether a student came from a non-English-speaking household if it was a “stressor” that justified a special read looking for socioeconomic disadvantages.

To better understand stressors, I was trained to look for the “helpful” personal statement that elevates a candidate. Here I encountered through-the-looking-glass moments: an inspiring account of achievements may be less “helpful” than a report of the hardships that prevented the student from achieving better grades, test scores and honors.

Readers are supposed to look for “leadership,” a major criterion in the holistic process. That usually meant extracurricular activities. (Volunteer trips to exotic places were taken as a sign of  “privilege.”)

In my application pile, many students from immigrant households had excellent grades and test scores but few activities. I commented in my notes: “Good student, but not many interests or activities? Why? Busy working parents? And/or not able to afford, or get to, activities?”

Many essays “lucidly expressed a sense of self and character,” Starkman writes.  Others “betrayed the handiwork of pricey application packagers, whose cloying, pompous style was instantly detectable.”

She read innumerable hard-luck stories, not all of them credible. Kids figure out what sells.

Favoring “stressors” over academic success has costs:  92 percent of whites and Asians at Berkeley graduate within six years, compared with 81 percent of Hispanics and 71 percent of blacks. In the UC system, 17 percent of Hispanic and black students who express interest in the sciences graduate with a science degree within five years, compared with 31 percent of white students.

It’s ironic that colleges claim to be looking for  “leadership” potential, writes Walt K in the comments.

. . . their entire process is designed to select compliant followers: people who have bought into the whole game, and are happy to play along.

People who do well on tests. People who do well in class. People who follow instructions. People who join clubs. People who follow the conventional wisdom People who teachers like. People who do what they are told. People who do all the ‘right’ things.

. . .  leaders are the ones who say, ‘To heck with this, I’m picking myself.’ Which may often mean bailing out on college to actually DO something instead of sucking up.

I think Walt K has a point.

Many elite colleges enroll few low- and moderate-income students, reports the New York Times. Berkeley is much higher than the average, due affirmative action for disadvantaged students.

Not all degrees are created equal

For today’s college graduates, “what you make depends on what you take,” advises the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. ”Not all degrees are created equal.” Engineering graduates start at $54,000, compared to $30,000 for arts, psychology and social work grads.

Nursing graduates have the lowest unemployment rate, Georgetown reports, but new RNs say it’s hard to find a job without experience.

‘Flipped’ engineering raises pass rates

“Flipping” and “blending” a San Jose State engineering class raised pass rates dramatically. The university partnered with edX on the pilot.

Eighty randomly selected students in an entry-level engineering course watched online lectures from MIT (the flip), while solving problems in class, with the professor’s help (the blend).  Ninety-one percent of the flipped students passed the class. Only 55 and 59 percent of non-flipped students passed.

All-online classes tend to have low pass rates. Community college students say they feel “on their own” in all-online courses.