Students are, more and more, being encouraged to go into STEM fields. Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering are at the forefront of many students’ minds; those career paths tend to pay more, and there’s a big need for them. But recently, Anthony Carnevale of The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce talked with NPR’s Michel Martin about what’s really going on in the STEM field.

Part of the U.S.’s push towards STEM is out of fear that we are losing our competitive edge as global innovators. But Carnevale says that STEM jobs actually only make up about 7% of the workforce. In truth, the “high need” is a direct result of the high churn rate within that career path. Most people in STEM-related fields move on by age 35, moving up into management positions or elsewhere. STEM is valuable in large part because it allows for so many more alternatives later on in life.

STEM graduates are also the highest paid majors, except for civil engineering and architecture. And going to graduate school increases STEM-related fields’ salary by an average of 30%.

STEM and humanities, left and right side brain

STEM shouldn’t completely overshadow the humanities.
Image: Shutterstock

The fact that STEM majors tend to make so much more money post graduation brings up a different issue, however—that of tuition. Programs for STEM majors also cost a lot more to run. Whereas humanities majors can just buy their own books or get them for tablets, STEM majors usually need to have labs filled with supplies. This cost difference makes it tempting to charge more tuition to those students—they are using more supplies and costing the school more money, after all—and charge less tuition to students studying within cheaper degree programs. Some colleges and universities have already begun increasing prices for business and STEM majors.

While it makes sense, though, charging different tuitions would reinforce one problem in particular: economic privilege. Minorities and socioeconomically disadvantaged students would be even more unable to afford a well-rounded, higher-opportunity career path. Meanwhile, white privilege would be reinforced, creating even more of a divide than there already is.

Carnevale suggests that government aid be more proportional to cost of programs. Shortages of cash make it more tempting to shut down expensive but valuable programs like STEM while encouraging students to pursue less expensive education paths. Students should have all options open, and in truth should probably receive a mix of humanities and STEM education. Exposure to those subjects that help make us “more human” is required if we want to reach our full potential for success.