US students turned away from STEM

US students turned away from STEM. By James Dunnigan.

For several generations the United States has been producing fewer college graduates who majored in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

After World War II the GI Bill made it possible for far more Americans to attend college and because of the growing appearance of impressive new technologies, many of these new college students eagerly took the more difficult STEM subjects and fueled an unprecedented explosion of new companies developing new tech to change the world.

Subsequent generations were not as eager to major in and succeed at all those STEM subjects. Colleges cooperated by producing more majors that had good career potential but were not as difficult as STEM.

The U.S. was able to get the STEM talent it needed from foreign students who eventually came to be the majority of STEM graduates and faculty. The foreign STEM grads preferred to start their own companies in the U.S. or return home and do it there. Management in American industries gradually lost much of its STEM component.

When I did an engineering PhD at Stanford in the 1980s, over half the engineering graduate students were non-US.  Some stayed in the US (and many are still there, I expect), and some like me worked in the US for a while then left. But it was obvious even then that native-born US students were avoiding STEM because they had to compete with foreigners. It is easier and more rewarding to study areas that are effectively only for US citizens, like law or media or postmodern studies.