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STEM Education

Why is this important?

Education at all levels in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—STEM—develops, preserves, and disseminates knowledge and skills that convey personal, economic, and social benefits. Higher education provides the advanced work skills needed in an increasingly knowledge-intensive, innovation-focused economy and society.

Key observations:

Average NAEP mathematics scores of students in grades 4 and 8: 1990–2009

(Average score)
NAEP= National Assessment of Educational Progress
SEI 2012: Mathematics and Science Performance in Grades 4, 8, and 12, Chapter 1.

Average mathematics and science PISA test scores of U.S. and OECD 15-year-olds: Selected years, 2003–09

PISA = Program for International Student Assessment; OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
SEI 2012: Mathematics and Science Performance in Grades 4, 8, and 12, Chapter 1.

K-12 mathematics and science

In the past two decades, U.S. students' mathematics scores on national assessments have improved.

Nonetheless, U.S. 15-year-olds tend to score lower than the international average in mathematics, and about the same as the international average in science.

First university degrees in natural sciences, selected country/economy: 1998–2008


First university degrees in engineering, selected country/economy: 2000–08


International bachelor's degrees

China awarded 300,000 bachelor's degrees in the natural sciences and 700,000 in engineering—together representing 43% of its 2.3 million total in 2008.

China's engineering degrees were about 10 times the U.S. number and represented a much higher share of all bachelor's degrees (30%) than in the United States (5%).

U.S. bachelor's degrees in selected S&E fields per 1,000 20–24-year-olds: 1991–2009

SEI 2012: Undergraduate Degree Awards, Chapter 2.

U.S. bachelor's degrees

U.S. output of total bachelor's degrees increased by more than half over two decades, reflecting a rising trend in college attendance. STEM degrees have consistently constituted about one-third of the total.

However, degrees in the physical sciences and engineering—considered critical to innovation—have long reflected the size of the college age cohort rather than mirroring levels of college attendance.

Computer science degrees varied from this pattern, rising through the dot-com bubble and collapse as students finished their degrees and now trending towards pre-2000 levels.

Doctoral degrees in natural sciences and engineering, by selected country/economy: 2000–08

International doctoral degrees

Advanced training towards the doctorate expanded over the decade 2000 to 2009. The EU graduated the most doctorate recipients in natural sciences and engineering (NS&E). The United States was a distant second, and nearly 40% of these doctorates were earned by temporary visa holders.

China now graduates more doctorate recipients in NS&E than does the United States, including temporary U.S. residents. China's doctoral degree output in NS&E is being driven by a steep rise in engineering doctorates, from 4,500 in 2000 to 15,300 in 2009.

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