STEM interest and achievement among Utah’s 2014 high school grads

Last week, ACT published a report titled The Condition of STEM 2014, in which they analyzed data from 2014 high school graduates who took the ACT. In addition to looking at the achievement of College Readiness Benchmarks, ACT also took into account survey data on student interests that accompany the ACT test, to determine student attitudes and achievement levels related to STEM–Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

STEM fields have been identified as high-wage, high-value for future employment. Experts say that technological innovation accounted for almost half of U.S. economic growth over the past 50 years, and almost all of the 30 fastest-growing occupations in the next decade will require at least some background in STEM. (Visit here for more on the power of STEM.)

Some interesting findings from the report:

Nearly half of Utah’s students are interested in STEM.

Forty-six percent of Utah’s ACT-tested 2014 graduates had an interest in STEM, slightly lower than the national figure of 49 percent. While the percentage of students nationally who are interested in STEM has increased slightly over the past five years, Utah’s students show a decrease in STEM interest.The biggest increases in interest were in the Engineering and Technology area, with engineering majors driving most of the growth, especially mechanical engineering.

2014 High School Grads Interest in STEM, Utah vs. Nation


Achievement levels in math and science need to improve.

While large numbers of students are interested in STEM, achievement levels remain low to foster success in most STEM fields. In Utah, only 39 percent of students met the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in math, and 36 percent met the science benchmark. There is a noted improvement in meeting these benchmarks for Utah students interested in STEM: 47 percent met the math benchmark, and 44 percent met the science benchmark.

ACT College Readiness Benchmarks Achievement, Utah Grads w/STEM Interest vs. Utah Grads Overall

Female interest in STEM is high.

Males are more likely than females to be interested in STEM, but the actual number of females who are interested in STEM is quite high. Male interest in STEM tends to be driven by engineering and math, while female interest is driven by medical/health and the sciences. Nursing is the single biggest interest area for females in medical/health, while biology is the biggest interest area in the sciences. Other STEM areas of particularly strong interest to females are animal sciences, biochemistry and biophysics, cell/cellular biology, chemistry, genetics, and marine aquatic biology. In Utah, of those students who had an interest in STEM, a larger percentage of males met the math and science College Readiness Benchmarks than females: 53 percent of males met the math benchmark, compared to 40 percent of females; and 49 percent of males met the science benchmark, compared to 37 percent of males.

ACT College Readiness Benchmarks Achievement among Grads w/STEM Interest, by Gender

Interest in teaching STEM subject areas is low.

The number of 2014 high school graduates who are interested in teaching math or science is low compared to the likely future demand for such teachers. The proposed federal STEM Teacher Pathways program seeks to produce 100,000 high-quality math and science teachers in the next decade. Out of more than 1.8 million 2014 graduates tested nationally, only 4,424 students expressed an interest in teaching math, while a meager 1,115 expressed an interest in teaching science.

All Utah high school juniors have the opportunity to take the ACT for free during the school day. During the ACT, students are asked to take an Interest Inventory, which determines inherent interest in occupations and majors. The ACT also asks students to choose a major or occupation that interests them in the Standard Profile section. Information from the 2014 ACT showed that 25 percent of Utah’s students are college-ready, meaning they met all four College Readiness Benchmarks (English, reading, math, science).

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Trisha Dugovic
Communications Director