High school interest in STEM
Proficiency in math moving into high school is an important indicator, yet proficiency on its own is not enough. Many students who are proficient in STEM areas in 8th grade indicate low interest in these subjects in high school (1). Students who are proficient in math and who indicate high interest in STEM are the most likely to pursue STEM majors and careers, yet research by ACT, Inc. indicates that fewer than 1 in 5 12th-grade students meets both criteria (2). Moreover, many students interested in STEM in high school do not actually pursue STEM majors in college (1).

High school teacher preparation in STEM
Many middle and high school math and science teachers are not certified in the subject they teach and did not major in the field in college. According to a report from the National Research Council, at the secondary level an estimated 10-20 percent of math and science teachers are teaching out of their primary field (3). Gaps in teacher preparation may be more pronounced in high-poverty communities with under-resourced schools (1).

College preparedness
Many students interested in studying STEM leave high school without adequate preparation, including rigorous coursework, participation in hands-on and group projects, and application of math and science concepts to solving real-world problems (4).

Based on 2011 ACT test data, average scores in math and science indicate that Minnesota high school graduates who take the ACT are ready for college in math but below the college-readiness benchmark in science, on average. Gaps in both areas become apparent when broken down by race/ethnicity and gender (5).

A 2010 report by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) and the University of Minnesota found that of all developmental credits taken by 2008 Minnesota public high school graduates attending Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, 50 percent were in math. Almost all taken by those attending University of Minnesota campuses were in math (6).

Pursuit of STEM fields in college
Based on a longitudinal, nationally representative survey of beginning postsecondary students conducted from 1995-2001, 1 out of 3 men compared with just 1 out of 7 women were likely to pursue STEM majors. Almost half of Asian and Pacific Islander students were likely to pursue STEM majors compared with just 1 out of 5 other racial/ethnic groups (7). Data provided on Minnesota Compass will help stakeholders monitor completion of STEM postsecondary certificates and degrees by population groups in Minnesota.

Undergraduate STEM persistence
Many undergraduate students expressing interest in STEM do not attain a STEM degree (8). Among those who pursue a STEM degree, research suggests that preventing attrition from STEM undergraduate majors is a key leverage point with potential for substantial return on investment. About half of the students who initially declare or intend to major in STEM areas do not end up completing STEM degrees. Supporting these students during their first year is especially important. More than a third of STEM majors transfer to another area after their first year (2).

In a longitudinal, nationally representative survey of beginning postsecondary students conducted from 1995-2001, those who pursued STEM majors were more likely to earn a bachelor's degree in 6 years and less likely to leave college without a degree than their peers. However, there were variations among STEM majors. Those who pursued computer/information sciences and engineering/engineering technologies were less likely to leave college with a credential than those pursuing physical sciences and biological/agricultural sciences. However, computer and engineering students fared better at the associate's than bachelor's degree level. Students pursuing computer/information sciences also differed from those pursuing other STEM fields in some important ways. They tended to be older, from low-income families, and less academically prepared, and were more often enrolled in 2-year institutions, subbaccalaureate programs, and on a part-time basis.

Overall, many students did not persist in their original STEM field, even if they completed a degree program. Among first-year students pursuing a STEM major, 37 percent completed a STEM degree or certificate in 6 years, 7 percent continued to be enrolled in a STEM field, and 55 percent either switched to a non-STEM field or left postsecondary education without a credential (7).

A look at students entering 4-year colleges or universities in 2003-04 also found that overall, undergraduate students majoring in science and engineering fields are more likely to complete a bachelor's degree in six years than are students majoring in other fields. Persistence and completion rates varied by field with higher rates for agricultural, biological, and social sciences than mathematics and physical and computer sciences, and engineering falling in between. Attrition out of engineering exceeded transfers into the major, whereas more undergraduates transferred into social/behavioral sciences than left those fields. Approximately 10 percent of engineering majors switched to majors in math or physical or computer sciences (9).


1. President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. (2010). Report to the President, Prepare and inspire: K-12 education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for America's future. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-stemed-report.pdf

2. Business-Higher Education Forum. (2010). Increasing the number of STEM graduates: Insights from the U.S. STEM education and modeling project. Retrieved from http://www.bhef.com/sites/bhef.drupalgardens.com/files/report_2010_increasing_the_number_of_stem_grads.pdf

3. Committee on the Study of Teacher Preparation Programs in the United States, National Research Council. (2010). Preparing teachers: Building evidence for sound policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

4. Thomasian, J. (2011). Building a science, technology, engineering, and math education agenda: An update of state actions. Retrieved from National Governors Association website: http://www.nga.org/files/live/sites/NGA/files/pdf/1112STEMGUIDE.PDF

5. STEM vital signs. (n.d.). Change the equation. Retrieved from http://vitalsigns.changetheequation.org/

6. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities & University of Minnesota. (2011). Getting prepared: A 2010 report on recent high school graduates who took developmental/remedial courses. Retrieved from http://www.mnscu.edu/media/publications/pdf/gettingprepared10.pdf

7. Chen, X., & Weko, T. (2009). Students who study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in postsecondary education (No. NCES 2009-161). Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics website: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009161.pdf

8. Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century: An Agenda for American Science and Technology, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine. (2007). Rising above the gathering storm: Energizing and employing America for a brighter economic future. Retrieved from The National Academies Press website: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11463&page=1

9. National Science Board. (2012). Science and engineering indicators 2012 (No. NSB 12-01). Retrieved from National Science Foundation website: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/pdf/seind12.pdf