In Barack Obama’s 2016 State of the Union address, the President stated that “we” have boosted graduates in fields like engineering as an example of progress that is being made in helping Americans land a good-paying job. Back in 2011, the President announced an initiative to train an additional 10,000 engineers a year as a way to stimulate the economy.
Headed by the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, the heart of the initiative was a collaboration between public and private sectors to provide an array of activities to strengthen education in science, technology, engineering and math (which we call STEM). In addition, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued two reports that recommended increasing both the number of STEM teachers and the number of STEM graduates. Engage to Excel, their 2012 report, called for producing “one million additional college graduates with bachelor or associate degrees in STEM fields” over the next decade.
At that time only 14 percent of all undergraduates enrolled in STEM courses. By 2015, 40 percent of bachelor’s degrees earned by men and 29 percent earned by women were in STEM fields. As the President said in 2011, “If we’re going to make sure the good jobs of tomorrow stay in America, we need to make sure all our companies have a steady stream of skilled workers to draw from.” Apple employs more than 700,000 people in other countries in part due to the availability of engineers in those countries. It is reported that Steve Jobs told President Obama the reason for this is that he could not find 30,000 engineers in the U.S.
So has the focus on STEM education and graduating more engineers paid off during the past five years or is the President’s statement more myth than reality? National data from various sources shows that engineering enrollments saw yearly gains between 3 and 6 percent. In 2010, the number of STEM graduates stood at around 300,000 per year. Since then there has been a steady rise in the number of STEM degrees awarded as U.S. students are finding their way into science and engineering. The National Science Foundation now shows more than 850,000 STEM degrees awarded across all levels per year.
Georgia Tech has certainly done its part to help achieve these goals. From 2011 to now, more than 16,000 engineering degrees have been granted. The largest of its kind in the nation, the College of Engineering is already training highly skilled engineers who can create companies, products, and services.
While the number of students studying STEM is steadily increasing, it is not time to back off the commitment. Georgia Tech has always been devoted to not only increasing the number of students who want to study engineering, but to the demographic makeup of our student body as well. I am proud that at Georgia Tech, we have produced the most women, African-American and minority engineers at all degree levels combined over the past decade. But we can, and will, do more. America’s current and future competitiveness in the world will grow from our expanding capacity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.