Fewer people graduating with science & tech degrees

By Razib Khan | May 31, 2006 5:28 pm

Percentage of Students Earning Degrees in Science and Math Has Fallen, GAO Tells Lawmakers ($$$), but this is all you need to know:

The GAO reported that 27 percent of students obtained degrees in those fields, which are known as the STEM disciplines, in the 2003-4 academic year, compared with 32 percent in 1994-95. It also noted that the number of degrees obtained in engineering, the biological sciences, and certain technical fields declined in the past decade. The number of graduate degrees awarded in the STEM fields also declined, it said.

Percentage is crucial. More & more people go college, but it may simply be that the inclination and aptitude for technical disciplines was long ago tapped out. And frankly, my personal experience is that many of the “Studies” (but not all) are joke degrees. A friend who did biochemistry and international studies told me that the latter felt like what she could have learned in coffee shop bull sessions.

  • http://saccharomyces.blogspot.com/ dlamming

    Look at the years cited.
    2003-4 – people would have had to enter college during the end of the tech boom. Many technically inclined people chose to defer entry during that time, or took longer to graduate due to working part time jobs during the tech boom.
    1994-5 – during the preceeding 4-6 years, the job was… lets say, substantially less good.
    Not saying the stats aren’t real, and maybe your point is correct, but those are two bad sets of years to compare.

  • http://akinokure.blogspot.com Agnostic

    I know it’s not the whole explanation, but female enrollment at undergrad has been increasing to the point that it’s almost 60-40 female-male. This new level of females wants 4 years of engin homework like they want another hole in their head.

  • Rietzsche Boknekht

    Percentage is crucial. More & more people go to college, but it may simply be that the inclination and aptitude for technical disciplines was long ago tapped out
    Yes, as more & more pompous/good-time oriented dumbies & mediocres are entering colleges, oftentimes only to say that they’ve *been* to college & raise their self image, it could give the impression that the number of high g S&E oriented students has plummeted & cause a skewing. Or is it that there’s been a decline in absolute numbers of enrollees in these disciplines?
    IMO, it would be hard to understand why S&E & mathematical knowledge intensive disciplines would be losing interested students, in an age of exponential discovery & technological advance. I mean, it would be mysterious to me why students with enough g to enter & succeed in such disciplines would somehow not be interested anymore.
    I remember looking at some census statistics on college enrollement & degree attainment & was shocked to find just what a small portion the Post Doctorates composed, & also shocked to see just how many people are going to college only to drop out with little to nothing a year or two later, IIRC. To many, it seems, college is only worth it insofar as it provides a *party* experience.
    I was further shocked when I recently went to the NSF site & got some stats on how many Ph.D’s are awarded annually for many S&E fields. The numbers were shockingly small. Of course, the numbers double annually, but still. The numbers of Bachelors & Masters were much greater, obviously.
    Something I’ve been wondering about for a while is how many bachelors & masters grads have the g necessary to attain Ph.D’s, but never attempt to step up to the plate, maybe because of a lack of motivation, self-denial of ability/creativity. Is the number of people who actually do attain Ph.D’s a true guage of the number of people capable of that degree of attainment/feat? Is there any real way I can sort them or know this kind of information? Did Herrnstein know? Does the cream of the crop always rise to the top(what are the probablities that a B.S. could attain an M.S., & that an M.S. could attain a Ph.D?) Anyway, I think colleges aren’t terribly eager to sort though uncertaintly(waste time) so they use test scores.

  • R. Boknekht

    A friend who did biochemistry and international studies told me that the latter felt like what she could have learned in coffee shop bull session.
    This is amusing to me, but it is typical, & might be growing even more common.
    Some of the course names for some of the “Studies” are highly amusing. There are even plenty of young women claiming to have *degrees* in such highly regarded “disciplines” as “day care studies”, “cultural sensitivity studies”, “gender relations/gay/transgender studies”, “housekeeping”, etc. They must feel very distinguished, I bet:) I wouldn’t wan’t to hurt their feelings, but these really are “joke degrees”, at least to serious academia.
    Maybe it is in such “studies” that females are now pouring into colleges for?

  • Roman Werpachowski

    Ah, gender studies.

  • http://www.indiancowboy.net/blog IndianCowboy

    the ‘studies’ that most piss me off are the hyphenated american studies. I mean, there is something seriuosly screwy about a black, indian, or hispanic kid entering african-american, indian-american, hispanic-american studies. Do I really need a college degree in Indian-American-ness? I mean I’ve BEEN one for 22 freaking years…
    But beyond that, Rietzche, first thing is PhD isn’t much of a reflection of intelligence, as far as I’m concerned. If you can get through the upper-level undergrad stuff, you can get your PhD. Granted I say this as a guy who decided NOT to do a PhD after his masters, but…
    The PhD lifestyle doens’t appeal to everyone. There are plenty of people with a lot of interest in certain fields but would rather get a bachelors in a related field and then go to industry and make more money at a younger age. Money/lifestyle was not part of the equation in my decision not to become a monkey scientist (I much prefer the lifestyle of being paid to play wiht monkeys in the amazon rainforest than be 30 before I’m a fully fledged doctor), but it is for a lot of people.
    As for engineering, I applied to both engineering and biology for undergrad. Ultimately I ditched engineering because the likelihood of doing something cool as an engineer is abysmally low. The idea of working on connecting rods or thrust nozzles for the rest of my life didn’t appeal to me. My interest was in R&D on the crazy stuff, firearms, engines, aerodynamics. Hard to end up doing that.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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