Young People See Big Barriers to Pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering or Math

January 27, 2012

About six in ten young people in the U.S. say they face barriers that might keep them from furthering their education or pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). That is the dispiriting finding of a new poll coming out of Lemelson-MIT program.

Why? Twenty-one percent say they don’t know enough about these fields. Twenty percent say they’re too hard. Seventeen percent say school hasn’t prepared them well enough. Smaller percentages say STEM isn't relevant to daily life (!) or doesn't pay enough (!!). Only 40 percent total say nothing stands in their way.

The findings of survey bolster what we've heard from ACT: namely, that almost seven in ten 12th graders are not interested in STEM careers.

So is there anything we can do to turn the tide? The barriers young people list aren't insuperable. Many of those who don't know about STEM would likely warm to it if they knew more. That was the finding of a recent survey Intel fielded (in collaboration with Change the Equation). As for those who say STEM isn't relevant or doesn't pay enough... C'mon! Count those students among those who don't know about STEM and would benefit from some outreach.

The feeling that STEM is too hard, or that school hasn't prepared students well enough, is a tougher nut to crack. STEM can certainly be challenging, and it's especially hard if school hasn't prepared you well. Reams of evidence show that all too many students tumble off the STEM path as it gets steeper. To make matters worse, many states set the bar for proficiency in math and science very low, setting young people up for a major shock later on.

So we need good PR, high standards, and boatloads of support for students. It's not an easy recipe, but it could hardly be more important.

Tags: science, technology, engineering, math