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Private Colleges Produce Prepared STEM Graduates



By Vanessa Denice
Posted March 18, 2014 11:00 AM

Small private colleges are graduating students poised to succeed in STEM fields.
Small private colleges are graduating students poised to succeed in STEM fields.

The importance of preparing the workforce for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields has been the subject of much research in recent years. As major companies strive to prepare students for a future in these industries and schools seek out the best and brightest for their programs, students have many opportunities to find success in STEM.

A Need for STEM Students

A 2012 report from President Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology found that, each year, approximately 300,000 students graduate from U.S. colleges with bachelor's or associate's degrees in STEM fields. However, this number has the potential to be much higher, and it may need to become greater if the country is to hold onto its position as one of the leaders in innovation and invention. Just 40% of students who set out to major in a STEM field complete the degree program, and improving the retention rate would help provide the U.S. with the future workers it requires. 

"Economic projections point to a need for approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate over the next decade if the country is to retain its historical preeminence in science and technology," said the report. 

To encourage more students to embrace STEM subjects, the Obama administration is attempting to make degrees more attainable and appealing. Part of this effort consists of creating a number of different paths to a diploma, including ensuring that associate's degree programs adequately prepare students for jobs and diversifying courses to get students hooked on subjects early on in their education. 

Getting Ready for STEM Careers

While the world will need more STEM graduates in the near future, there are some positives about the crop of students inching closer to the workforce. A recent report from the Council of Independent Colleges titled "Strengthening the STEM Pipeline: The Contributions of Small and Midsized Independent Colleges" examined how these institutions prepare students for the future. Although many may believe that large, public research institutions are the most obvious option for scholars, smaller schools are just as able to provide support and resources. 

These colleges are ready and able to educate individuals and encourage a love of learning, including in STEM industries. As the government, organizations and the general public realize the integral role these institutions play in the future of the U.S., the colleges could receive more support to further their academic aims. 

Graduates Continue Their Education 

A significant portion of STEM graduates from smaller, private colleges make the decision to continue their education and earn a master's or doctoral degree. For example, 1 in 4 individuals who graduate with a degree in biological sciences from Swarthmore College, Haverford College, Grinnell College and Oberlin College goes on to complete a Ph.D. That rate is higher than at larger schools such as Pennsylvania State University, the Ohio State University and the University of Iowa, which are more commonly associated with STEM research and programs, according to the report. 

Students at these smaller or midsized schools are also more likely to complete their degrees in a timely manner. According to the research, approximately 80% of bachelor's degree students completed their programs in four years, which is significantly more than the 34% of students at public four-year nondoctoral schools and the 52% at public four-year doctoral colleges. They were also more likely to complete the degree in STEM fields rather than switch to a different industry. 

As the need for STEM workers becomes more pronounced, the ability for small and midsized schools to produce graduates who are well-prepared to take on jobs will be extremely important.

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