By Katherine Heath
PuLSE Junior Fellow
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly nine million jobs exist in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The average wage for all STEM occupations is nearly double the national average wage for non-STEM occupations. Having a career in the STEM field provides a potential opportunity to improve one’s income level. However, the opportunity is not equally available for all and certainly not for those who are underserved learners or who live in an underserved community such as Detroit. The American College Test (ACT) reported in 2017 that, of the Michigan high school students interested in STEM, only 23 percent met the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. The benchmarks are minimum ACT test scores required for students to have a chance at success in a first-year college course of study.
Underserved learners are those who have at least one of the following characteristics: they are minorities, first generation in college, or low income. Students who meet all three criteria are sixteen times less likely to be ready for STEM coursework in college. For African American high schools, only seven percent met the Michigan College Readiness Benchmark in STEM. The possibility of a career in STEM which can provide the opportunity for higher wages is slim to none when the playing field is far from equal even before students set foot on a college campus.
In 2015, the Michigan Legislature created the MiSTEM Advisory Council to uphold its four pillars: 1) Michigan must create a robust culture of STEM; 2) The Educator pipeline must be strengthened; 3) Businesses and educators must be integrated; and 4) Michigan must ensure high quality STEM experiences. In the fourth annual report released in January of 2019, the MiSTEM Advisory Council made specific recommendations to policymakers on how “best to maximize state-appropriated funding.”
Several of the recommendations included analyzing and describing the STEM Educator Talent Pipeline, supporting a state-funded, coordinated educational campaign to build STEM awareness, communicating needs and opportunities for all stakeholders, and including a seat on the MiSTEM Advisory Council for a Governor’s office appointee. The recommendations are reasonable and the focus on STEM awareness and education is starting to change the culture in our state as different types of rich learning experiences for Michigan students are being developed.
But there is one particular stakeholder group missing from the Council of expert business and education leaders, philanthropic members, and legislative members: the high school student. Student representatives, both from underserved high schools and communities and those from better-funded schools should be allowed to lend their voices to the discussion. Students are the future generation of the STEM Educator Pipeline but with only one percent of Michigan high school students expressing interest in being a STEM Educator, there is no future pipeline. Having a STEM-interested student as part of the STEM Educator career discussion is an opportunity to gain meaningful insight into the STEM disparity.
The good news is that our education, business, and legislative leaders have great potential for changing the disappointing numbers of the Michigan College Readiness Benchmark. By asking the next generation to share interests, passion, insights, and a seat at the table, we will be activating a critical stakeholder group and developing new paths towards energizing access to and expertise in arguably the most valuable professional fields of the future.
Katherine Heath, a student at Bloomfield Hills High School in Bloomfield Hills, is currently a Junior Fellow at The PuLSE Institute, where she is focusing on issues of poverty and inequality as it relates to STEM education. For more information visit https://thepulseinstitute.org/junior-fellows-2/