Math and graduation: Interested in STEM? Get going on math

This is the third article in a multi-part series about math in high school and college leading to completion of a degree or certificate. The first article focused on math and high school preparation, the second on developmental/remedial math.

College majors in areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are typically some of the most popular majors at Utah colleges and universities (both public and private). Students graduating in these majors are typically the most employable – the unemployment rate for Utahns with a technology degree is 1.6 percent, compared to 2.9 percent for a degree in any field. STEM majors offer higher wages – on average $10,000 more per year than all degree holders.

These fields are also growing. A new report from the Georgetown Center on the Workforce and the Economy reports jobs for managers; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers; and healthcare professionals account for the majority of good jobs in the recovery since the Great Recession. Even one of the fastest growing areas of Utah’s economy – middle skill jobs – are seeing primary growth in STEM areas. In fact, Utah’s Wasatch Front is considered one of four areas in the entire country where livable-wage, middle-skill jobs will be the primary driver for overall job growth, accounting for nearly half of all new jobs.

However, STEM majors are also some of the most rigorous college majors that require express competency in college level math. The bottom line: if you’re a high school student interested in STEM, commit to it and get as much math as you can in high school.

A recent analysis of USHE data indicates STEM students (those who declare as a STEM major at college entry) are generally more math-prepared than non-STEM majors:

Completing general math requirement early

72 percent of STEM students earned their general education math requirement (quantitative literacy) before the end of their first year in college, compared to only 42 percent of non-STEM majors. Even USHE graduates who do not initially declare a STEM major, but end up graduating with a STEM degree are more successful when they complete their general math requirement by the end of their first year of college.

STEM and non-STEM graduates who complete general math by 1st year of college (including high school)

STEM and Non-STEM students by time of completion of college general math requirement

(Source, USHE/Utah Data Alliance, 2008 first-time full-time freshmen)

Taking math throughout high school

Not only are STEM students completing their general ed math requirement early, they are more likely to take math their senior year of high school and take more rigorous math courses than their comparative non-STEM majors. STEM-major students are 30 percent more likely to take 4 years of math in high school (the same amount recommended by Utah Scholars and the Regents’ Scholarship). Previous data indicate the importance of taking math during all years of high school.

Last high school math taken by STEM and non-STEM students

Intuitively, since these STEM-identified students are preparing early, taking as much math as they can in high school in anticipation of the additional math-related rigor generally required in STEM majors makes them more likely to complete their degree in a timely way.