Industry Outlook: Higher Education

August 9, 2013

TAGGART: The tech colleges are very similar, so we have to really work hard on those business partnerships. For example, in the state of Utah we have a high demand for machinists and we are not producing enough for the demand right now. Innovative employers will say, “If we can take your student early on in a paid internship, we will have an agreement that they will work for us part time but they must complete their certificate or their associate degree or they lose their job.”

It’s those unique partnerships that allow the businesses to cherry-pick the best potential employees. But at the same time, it permits the individual to complete the program and be a full-grounded employee that is going to give them a long-standing skill set for a long time to come.             

Our state has just invested $10 million in the new STEM Action Center. Is there too much emphasis on STEM education in our state? What value do humanities graduates bring to the state? Or should there be more emphasis on STEM?       

GOETZ: I can’t imagine anyone in the room would argue against the value of a humanities background. If students want to go into humanities they should be encouraged to go into humanities. But we do have a burden on our shoulders to address the shortage in science, tech, engineering, math—or STEM—graduates.

There’s a bit of a disconnect if you look at the data. We are graduating STEM experts. The problem is that the value of the people with the STEM background is recognized in STEM and nonSTEM industries. So we were left with the dilemma of how do we meet the demand of the STEM industry when we are losing STEM graduates to nonSTEM industries?

So I wouldn’t argue against humanities. I just think we need to pay attention to how we promote STEM and recruit our young students into STEM areas, and work more effectively with our industry partners.      

GEORGE: Most STEM degree programs are not mutually exclusive of a liberal arts base. When I went to college, I got a molecular and cellular college degree, but in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, so that critical thinking piece and that liberal arts background was still a requirement.     

GOETZ: I think we have to recognize that STEM is conducted in a social and cultural context. So the humanities play a very large role in what we do as STEM practitioners, right? You can’t ignore the social and cultural discussion that goes around, say, stem cell biology and stem cell research. Everything we do in STEM is done in the social/culture context.

GEORGE: I would add that all industries are becoming more technical. So when you are looking at some of these industrial design programs, this is a very sophisticated level of being able to use software.     

JESSING: You can’t ignore our status in the nation as well as the rest of the world in this discussion. The push toward STEM originates, in large part, by being competitive with other developing countries. I don’t think there’s an overemphasis.

What we see, certainly at the high school level, is a lot of students don’t even understand what degrees exist, what careers exist in STEM. So if anything, STEM serves a role in actually just getting people on board. You are never going to turn someone who is inherently an artist into a molecular biologist. But to expose them to that, give them the option, you may pick up more who have a natural ability to understand the subject.      

WIGHT: I agree completely. A lot of what the STEM Action Center is doing is trying to increase college preparedness among high school students. If we are successful in that, then students will have the opportunity to consider STEM fields. If they come to college with only fundamental algebra skills, it is very, very difficult to make up that time and actually earn a degree in engineering or science.      

LEASURE: We are providers of STEM educators. We do teacher licensure for STEM. In fact, we are the No. 1 provider in the country of STEM licensed teachers, and we find that all of them get really good employment. There’s high demand for them. They continue to drive that innovation and bring that education to the students. And then we see the demand follow through in our technology programs. There’s just strong student and strong employer demand in those areas.      

BAYLE: It’s especially important for girls, because traditionally girls have not gone into STEM careers. If we are ever going to get to that 66 percent that we are all looking to get to, we have to start bringing girls along and make them understand that STEM careers are open and available to them, as well.

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