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U.S. and Global 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, globally-integrated, and innovation-based economic landscape.

Key observations:

Average NAEP mathematics scores of U.S. students in grades 4 and 8: 1990–2011

NAEP = National Assessment of Educational Progress.

SEI 2014: Mathematics and Science Performance in Grades 4 and 8, Chapter 1.

K-12 mathematics and science

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

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

PISA = Program for International Student Assessment; OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

SEI 2014: International Comparisons of Mathematics and Science Performance, Chapter 1.

K-12 mathematics and science

U.S. 15-year olds tend to score slightly lower than the international average in mathematics and have scores about equal to the international average in science.

U.S. bachelor's degrees in selected S&E fields per 1,000 20–24-year olds: 1991–2011

SEI 2014: Undergraduate Degree Awards, Chapter 2.

U.S. baccalaureates

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

The increases in certain natural sciences degrees—physical sciences and mathematics—and in engineering degrees generally reflect the size of the college-age cohort rather than a rise in the number of students who major in those fields. In contrast, the number of biological and agricultural sciences degrees rose during most of the last two decades. Computer sciences degrees rose through the bubble and then declined and leveled off during the second half of the 2000s.

Bachelor's degrees in natural sciences, by selected country/economy: 2000–10


Bachelor's degrees in engineering, by selected country/economy: 2000–10

NA = not available.

International baccalaureates

The number of degrees in natural sciences and engineering fields has risen much faster in China than in the United States.

Natural sciences and engineering fields account for a much larger proportion of all bachelor's degrees in China than in the United States. In 2010, these fields accounted for 44% of all bachelor's degrees in China, compared with 16% of all bachelor's degrees in the United States.

Doctoral degrees in natural sciences and engineering, by selected country/economy: 2000–11

International doctorates

Advanced training towards the doctorate has expanded in recent years. The numbers of doctoral degrees in natural sciences and engineering have risen dramatically in China, whereas the numbers awarded in the United States, South Korea, and many European countries have risen more modestly.

In 2010, China graduated the largest number of doctorate recipients in natural sciences and engineering of any individual country, followed by the United States. In the United States, however, only 57% of these doctorates were earned by citizens or permanent residents, and temporary visa holders earned the remainder.

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