Utah Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Utah leaders have set a goal of having 66% of the state’s adults earn postsecondary degrees or vocational certificates by the year 2020. The goal is based on data from Georgetown University projecting that to remain competitive, Utah’s economy will need 66% of its population to have some form of postsecondary education by 2018. Leaders have identified STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and health professions as areas in which there will continue to be a high demand for workers, and these areas will have high priority initially. To underscore the importance of this need, legislators recently approved $10 million to launch an initiative that includes the creation of a STEM Action Center to support a greater emphasis on STEM education and careers in Utah. According to Mark Bouchard, chair of the Prosperity 2020 Initiative, the milestone legislation will bridge private sector and education to build a strong Utah workforce.

STEM Disciplines

STEM fields traditionally comprise the broad disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math. However, there is no national consensus as to which professions fit precisely into this category. Various employers include different jobs in their definitions, including conventional fields such as chemists, software developers, mechanical engineers, and statisticians. Others in business and academics incorporate a wider range of professions, such as managers in technical occupations, manufacturing personnel, and architectural designers.

Benefits of Women in STEM 

There are numerous benefits for Utah women who pursue STEM degrees and careers. First, there are clear economic advantages to being employed in STEM-related fields. Workers in STEM occupations typically earn 26% more than their non-STEM colleagues, even after accounting for demographic factors such as age, race, and gender. STEM workers are also less likely to become unemployed. According to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, the highest STEM unemployment rate during the recent recession was almost half of the non-STEM unemployment rate (5.5% vs. 10%, respectively). In addition, because technology is dispersed today throughout all types of businesses and industries, STEM-capable workers are needed in all organizations.

K-12 STEM Pipeline

Educators in Utah have recognized the importance of emphasizing STEM education. In fact, the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) recently published a STEM Statement that outlines their commitment to integrating technology throughout the curriculum and promoting STEM fields to students. They intend to collaborate with higher education and industry personnel to provide foundational skills. Yet, Utah has a history of fewer girls and young women enrolling in advanced STEM-related coursework and earning degrees at the secondary and postsecondary levels. In fact, 2008 IPEDS data show the percentage of Utah females graduating from high school who enroll in STEM postsecondary programs is 19.2%, compared to 31.2% nationally.

Postsecondary STEM Degrees

In order to design effective initiatives to increase the number and proportion of females enrolling in STEM degree and certificate programs within the state, it is important to know the percentages of females graduating in these fields. The Appendix includes a detailed snapshot of all 2012 STEM degrees earned by award level and USHE institution. Women are significantly behind men in graduation rates in all but two of nine STEM categories. In this section we will first review the areas with the highest graduation rates for women. We will conclude with a review of all other STEM fields.

To learn more about Utah Women in STEM read the entire brief.

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