The problem isn't limited to the nation's rapidly expanding minority population. In 2013, only 20 percent of AP computer science test-takers were female. Women already comprise the majority of students on our college campuses and also make up about 46 percent of the workforce. Why then do they represent less than 20 percent of bachelor's degrees awarded in fields like computer science and engineering, and hold less than one-quarter of STEM jobs?
These figures are unconscionable. Until we start to meaningfully address this crisis, we will continue to exclude people of color and women from the new high-skilled economy.
Employment in STEM-related occupations is projected to create about 1 million jobs — expanding the sector to include more than 9 million positions — between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Federal data also show that workers in STEM occupations earned a median annual wage that was more than double the median wage for all workers in May 2013. And even though a gender wage gap still exists in STEM occupations, it is smaller than the gender wage gap in other fields.
In short: Access to STEM jobs is an on-ramp to higher than average wages in expanding fields where jobs are expected to be plentiful.
In late May, the Leadership Conference Education Fund joined with the Educational Testing Service to convene a symposium at the National Academy of Sciences to discuss equal access to STEM education as a critical civil-rights concern and to examine ways to address the disparities. At the same time that experts from a range of sectors at our symposium acknowledged STEM inequities, bright young minds were gathering at the White House for its annual science fair — an event that this year placed special focus on women and girls who are excelling in STEM.
President Obama also announced several upcoming initiatives, including a $35 million Education Department competition, an expansion of STEM AmeriCorps. It will provide STEM learning opportunities for 18,000 low-income students this summer, and a national STEM mentoring effort involving technology and media companies, nonprofits, and others working to connect more students to STEM.
These are important steps. But we also need programs like Race to the Top for Equity and Opportunity, which would invest $300 million in proven approaches across the K-12 pipeline, such as placing our best teachers in high-need schools, expanding access to AP and college-prep classes, and equalizing spending between every school district's rich and poor schools.
The new Race to the Top would also fund positive behavior supports and fair discipline policies, and help to finance expanded learning hours. During her keynote address at our May symposium, Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary at Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, called this initiative the Education Department's highest priority in the budget.