What Is Stem?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math; but it is far more than an acronym or grouping of subject areas. A STEM approach to learning teaches the four subject areas through an interdisciplinary, hands-on, inquiry-based pedagogy.

The amount of STEM-related jobs is growing exponentially, but filling those jobs has been a challenge in Colorado and throughout the United States. While STEM education is important for both students and employers in a practical sense of finding and filling jobs, it is equally important for cultivating a generation of students with the skills needed to solve the most pressing challenges we experience in the modern world.

Why Is STEM Important?

By 2020, nearly 55% of Colorado’s jobs will require STEM-related training or education
By 2020, nearly 55% of Colorado’s jobs will require STEM-related training or education

More and more school districts, businesses, and colleges are focusing on STEM programs for a variety of important reasons. Students who are trained in STEM can expand career pathways throughout their adult lives—through certificate programs and post-secondary degrees with specific STEM career

training. Meanwhile, businesses need employees with higher levels of training and education to meet the demands of our 21st century workforce. For example, by 2020, nearly 55% of Colorado’s jobs will require STEM-related training or education. Yet fewer than 25% of Colorado students are earning such credentials. This presents Colorado with a tremendous opportunity to ensure all Colorado students have access to the education and training needed to fill our state’s workforce needs.

What Is STEM Education?

As an integrated, applied learning program, STEM education can begin as early as elementary school, with a focus on how the scientific method can be applied in everyday life. By high school, STEM programs are more rigorous and can be stand-alone curricula or integrated into various classes. Often, the emphasis is placed on in-school and out-of-school STEM opportunities to build the deep mathematical and scientific base of knowledge that students will need to be competitive in a future we can’t predict. Students who participate in STEM classes and programs develop a set of skills such as:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Reasoning
  • Investigation
College Degrees Not Required

Half of all STEM jobs are available to workers without a four-year college degree, and these jobs pay $53,000 – a wage 10 percent higher than jobs with similar education requirements.
-Brookings Institute

These skills are useful in school, work, and life. Additionally, learning STEM subjects and mastering related skills is increasingly important as more jobs and careers encompass STEM. By 2018, the U.S. will need to fill nearly 8.7 million STEM-related jobs, yet not enough Americans are currently pursuing pathways in these areas to fill such positions. Importantly, the demand for STEM-literate workers is also increasing across non-STEM occupations, demonstrating the transferability of these skills across STEM and non-STEM industries.

STEM education also helps increase the relevance of education for students, which in turn boosts student engagement. According to the Colorado Talent Pipeline Report, nearly half of young workers in the United States find that their formal education did not prepare them for their work life. STEM learning experiences help remedy this disconnect and answer the age-old question: Why does what I’m learning matter.

STEM Education in Colorado Schools

STEM education can look different in each school and each classroom. Here is what STEM learning looks like across Colorado classrooms.

What Are STEM Careers?

The top STEM careers include jobs in computing, engineering, physical and life sciences, and mathematics. A growing list of jobs require math and science knowledge or skills, but aren’t considered traditional STEM jobs, including health care, business, and data analysis. In 2015, graduates with degrees in math and science had twice as many jobs to apply for than students with other majors. Not only is the job market more substantial in STEM fields, but these jobs also tend to offer higher pay. For example, a Colorado graduate with a computer science degree can expect to earn $95,000 upon graduation. This is roughly double the average starting salary in Colorado.

Colorado boasts the most per capita listings of STEM jobs in the nation. Colorado is a hub for a variety of STEM-related industries including companies in the information technology sector, aerospace engineering, defense specialists, and healthcare. However, far from enough students are exiting our education system prepared to pursue careers in STEM. Many do not even know the career opportunities available to them.

The beauty of many STEM careers is that many do not require a four-year college degree. As jobs in the STEM-related sectors grow, Colorado Succeeds and other organizations are working to create a variety of pathways to access STEM jobs, including credentialing programs, certifications, apprenticeships, and more accessible associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree pathways. This variety allows students opportunities to enter and exit educational pathways throughout their young and adult lives, in addition to experiencing STEM career options first-hand without investing in expensive college courses.

Learn More about STEM Careers and STEM Education in Colorado

If you are interested in learning more about STEM in Colorado, check out these resources:

If you want to get involved in STEM education in Colorado and preparing students for STEM careers, contact us.