With a growing number of jobs available in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, maintaining interest in postsecondary STEM education is important to meet Iowa’s future career demands. Students who indicate an interest in STEM during middle school, high school or early college are increasingly more likely to finish a degree in a STEM field than those who indicate an interest earlier, in elementary school.13 According to answers given on the Iowa Assessments, interest in individual STEM topics declines as a student advances from elementary school to high school, though an interest in STEM careers declines to a lesser extent.14
As revealed by the 2015 ACT exam results, 48 percent of Iowa students completing the exam were interested in STEM. Interest was either expressed by selecting a STEM degree or occupation or measured by scoring high on the ACT Interest Inventory in science or technology. Of those with STEM interest,
42 percent intend to pursue degrees or careers in medical and health fields, 25 percent in science, 22 percent in engineering and 10 percent in computer science or math.15
Students indicating STEM interest performed higher than average on the 2015 ACT. In Iowa, 40 percent of those with expressed or measured interest in STEM fields met all four college readiness benchmarks, compared to 33 percent for all students. On the ACT Math and Science subject tests, 56 percent of STEM-interested students met the benchmark versus 48 percent of students not interested in STEM.2,15 Many STEM-interested students were within 2 points of meeting the ACT benchmarks for Math (10 percent) and Science (17 percent).
ACT released a new STEM score for 2015, derived from Math and Science scores. The STEM benchmark is higher than individual ACT Math and Science benchmarks based on research stating that academic success in a STEM field requires increased knowledge in those subjects. Students meeting the STEM benchmark are more likely to earn a 3.0 grade point average, persist in a STEM major and obtain a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field.16 While 56 percent of Iowa students with STEM interest met the ACT Math and Science benchmarks, only 30 percent met the STEM benchmark.
The two most common barriers to STEM education in Iowa were reported to be a limited access to resources and the attitude that STEM was “not for me” among students.14 In 2011, the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council was created with the goal of stimulating STEM interest and preparedness among Iowa’s students.17 The Iowa STEM Scale-Up Program was designed to provide education programs to pre-K through high school students. In 2014, indicators of progress in STEM included:14
• An increase of 2 percent in STEM interest across all demographics since 2010
• An increase of 600 students taking Advanced Placement STEM-related courses from 2012 to 2014
In addition, the initiative has improved public opinion on STEM.
• 89 percent of Iowans believe STEM education is important for Iowa’s economy
• 96 percent of Iowans agree that STEM advancements will provide opportunities for the next generation
13) Maltese, A. V., Melki, C. S. and Wiebke, H. L. (2014). The Nature of Experiences Responsible for the Generation and Maintenance of Interest in STEM.
14) Heiden, E. O., Kemis, M., Gillon, K. E., Whittaker, M., Park, K.H., & Losch, M. E. (2015). Iowa STEM Monitoring Project, 2014-2015 Annual Report. Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council.
15) The ACT. (2015) The Condition of STEM – Iowa.
16) Mattern, K., Radunzel, J., & Westrick P. (2015) Development of STEM readiness benchmarks to assist career and educational decision making.
17) Iowa Exec. Order No. 74.