Lots of people earn college degrees in STEM disciplines. But how many of them actually use those degrees for STEM-related work? According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the answer is, “Not very many.”
In a survey of 3.5 million homes, the agency found that almost 75 percent of those who held a bachelor’s degree in a STEM discipline didn’t actually work a STEM job. In a series of interviews with the Washington Post, experts seemed divided about the reason for the discrepancy. Census Bureau sociologist Liana Christin Landivar cautioned the newspaper that the agency doesn’t necessarily record all STEM-heavy jobs—such as medical doctors—as actual STEM professions.
Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, told the Post that STEM-educated workers who end up in fields such as supply-chain management are still using many of the technical skills learned in school, even if the job itself isn’t devoted to mathematics or science.
The Census Bureau also offered up a nifty interactive visualization tracing where STEM graduates end up, occupation-wise. While the vast majority of those who graduate with degrees in engineering, computers, mathematics and statistics seem to slot right into STEM fields, a significant number of graduates in the physical sciences, psychology, social sciences, and multidisciplinary studies seem to end up in fields as diverse as education, legal, social services, non-STEM management, and agriculture.
Even as a percentage of STEM graduates never use their degree, salaries for STEM workers continue to rise, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution. Thanks to increased demand for highly skilled workers, the Institution added, STEM jobs requiring a Ph.D. or other professional degree can now stay open for as long as 50 days: “Even sub-bachelor’s STEM job openings take longer to fill than non-STEM jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree.”
For years, everyone from CEOs to pundits have blamed the inability to fill STEM jobs on educational institutions’ inability to pump out graduates at a fast enough rate. But the new data from the Census Bureau suggests that the pipeline might not be the whole issue: A number of STEM graduates are simply going to non-STEM jobs.
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Image: U.S. Census Bureau