Across the country, there is a growing – and overdue – awareness of the need to increase our focus on science, technology engineering and math education, or STEM for short.
We at Intuit also include the arts, “STEAM” education, because artists are critically important in the technology workforce. Graphic designers, for example, can play an essential role in creating products. Educational diversity also helps spark the creativity that is essential to innovation.
The focus on traditional STEAM education is producing a good number of physicists, chemists and biologists. But at the same time, we lag in one critical area – computer science. And that is where our educational institutions, the private sector and policy makers should focus.
Code.org, a leading nonprofit organization that promotes computer science education, reports that 71 percent of all new jobs in STEM fields are in computing, but only 8 percent of STEM graduates are pursuing computer science degrees. Similarly, the U.S the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that future demand for workers with computer science skills will far outpace the number of students being trained today.
Most states have no computer science curriculum. A national survey by Google and Gallup found that only about 40 percent of K-12 schools even offer computer science classes. That highlights the need to ensure that school administrators prioritize this field of study and that tomorrow’s teachers have basic computer science aptitude to teach it. That means providing incentives for today’s teachers to obtain computer science certifications, a path that several states are pursuing.
The 2015-2016 Taulbee Survey, conducted on behalf of the Computing Research Association, showed significant improvement in the number of U.S. students pursuing bachelor’s master’s and doctoral degrees inn computer science. This trend is encouraging because it will create the workforce of tomorrow in high-skilled jobs for American businesses.
As the need grows for more students to enter the computer science curriculum pipeline, we must also ensure that colleges and universities have enough faculty to instruct them. While computer science enrollment at most U.S. universities has risen exponentially over the last decade, faculty numbers have remained relatively flat. This often limits computer science enrollment because of major and class restrictions, forcing students to pursue a different field.
In addition to encouraging more students to study computer science, some higher education institutions are successfully working to increase the number of women entering the field. The Computing Research Association reports that about 84 percent of computer science undergraduates are men. But at Harvey Mudd, one of the Claremont Colleges in southern California, 55 percent of computer science graduates last year were women, up from just 10 percent a decade ago. School officials point to cultural and curriculum changes that made these offerings more welcoming and more interesting to female students.
The private sector also bears responsibility to help fulfill the educational and workforce training requirements of the American workforce. At Intuit, we support the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, where we actively recruit women with computer science education and training. We are also engaged with students and faculties at more than 20 college and university campuses in a wide range of technology initiatives. In addition, we support Girls Who Code, Code 2040 and Yes We Code, the leading organizations supporting black and Latino engineering talent and underrepresented minorities in technology-based education.
Even with this increased focus and enrollment, a gap remains between availability of computer science expertise and the current and future needs of the American workforce. Until the domestic educational institutions catch up with the demand for highly skilled computing experts, many U.S. companies must utilize the H-1B visa program.
This program allows foreign workers to temporarily enter the United States and to be hired for unfilled positions that generally require both advanced education and specialized skills. Admittedly, the program has its flaws, and we agree it can and should be reformed to prevent abuses. But granting highly educated and highly skilled workers from other countries temporary residency must remain a priority. This policy will help American companies to grow, prosper and create more employment opportunities for workers at every skill level in a field that is critically important to economic success.
Successfully increasing STEAM education demands a partnership between higher education, the private sector and government. Educational institutions must expand their computer science offerings to help educate a new swath of students who will be the skilled workers of tomorrow.
The private sector and governments must work together to support diversity and expansion of STEAM education, with a special focus on computer science programs across our country. This investment in our future workers will provide American companies with the skilled workers they need to continue leading the way in technological innovations.