Workforce Development

STEM – Will it replace liberal arts?

Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) educational policies encourage school options that provide students the opportunity to develop the necessary skills to enter the STEM workforce – the fastest growing employment field in the nation.

According to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs within the STEM fields are projected to grow 13 percent between 2012 and 2022 – a staggeringly high growth rate. The fastest growing employment opportunities lie in the areas of “computer systems analysts, applications software developers, and systems software developers.” While some fields expand much more quickly than others, engineers remain the highest paid employees of all the STEM workforce areas.

Even more surprising than the rapid expansion of the STEM workforce is the range of required levels of education within STEM jobs. While certain degrees require a doctorate, one can acquire a job without a four-year degree and earn a salary about 10 percent higher than positions with similar education requirements.

The varying levels of education required to get a STEM-related job raises the question of the continuing necessity of a liberal arts education – a system in which the institution exposes its students to all different subject areas while also encouraging students to “liv[e] the ‘examined life’ extolled and demonstrated by Socrates.” Will liberal arts education slowly become obsolete and unnecessary as the technical education needed for STEM jobs becomes increasingly important? Some would answer yes; others, however, argue in favor of the benefits that a liberal arts education can provide to a STEM-focused student.

ALEC recognizes the importance of working to achieve non-partisan successes to explore how to better STEM education fields, especially among higher education institutions. According to Forbes, an education that focuses on improving students’ critical thinking skills in higher education is essential to better preparing American students to compete on the STEM workforce’s world stage. An effort to refocus liberal-arts higher education based on critical thinking skills must simultaneously occur with advancements in STEM.

The core principles of STEM educational policies require a focus on the four areas of study, but the four fields do not encompass all that is necessary to succeed in the STEM workforce. According to the U.S. BLS Spring 2014 Occupational Outlook, STEM jobs require employees who possess “strong thinking and communication skills.”

Abilities that go beyond those taught in strictly STEM courses develop from a diverse educational background – one that a liberal arts institution would provide. These educational establishments allow students to explore different academic routes that could potentially turn into an area of study that expands upon the skills learned from STEM-related fields; therefore making students with an education including both STEM and liberal arts components stand out as superior applicants for STEM jobs.

STEM is the present and the future, and STEM related fields are projected to grow by more than 1 million by the year 2022. STEM should not focus entirely on schools dedicated to its own field. Rather, it should also hold a place within liberal arts institutions. Liberal arts education may seem irrelevant today, but it is necessary if America’s youth are to become successful members of today’s STEM-dominated workforce.




In Depth: Workforce Development

American businesses are increasingly worried about the quality of the workforce pool from which they will be hiring. Too few American students are graduating high school or college with the skills employers need. And while college is a pathway to career success for many students, it’s far from the only…

+ Workforce Development In Depth