By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2015, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating. In the decade ending with 2018, jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are projected to grow 17 percent. That’s nearly double the rate for non-STEM occupations.
Within that growth, jobs in computer design and related services (everything from the software that drives drilling equipment to web page graphics) are projected to grow by a whopping 45 percent.
Currently, STEM occupations make up more than one of every 10 jobs in the United States and have wages that are approaching nearly twice the U.S. average.
Students who are in high school and college now are the “new recruits” to fill those jobs.
With the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, our state has one of the best high schools for technical education in the entire country.
Given that a technical workforce is the key to innovation and growth, here’s something that’s hard to understand.
Since 2009, the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics’ budget has been reduced so significantly that the school has had to cut a third of faculty and staff.
Of the more than 1,400 graduates of Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics since 1992, more than half who have completed a degree and have entered the workforce are working in Oklahoma.
Ten of those have started their own businesses in our state. An independent report credits OSSM with a $40 million economic impact in Oklahoma.
The school has established eight regional centers for calculus and physics instruction in rural parts of the state and has begun an online virtual regional center to teach more students statewide.
School President Dr. Frank Wang says that with about a half-million dollars in incremental funding, the school of science and math could almost double the number of students on campus.
“With two new dorms built through private donations and federal money — not a penny of state funding — we have the capacity on campus to accommodate over 100 more residential students,” he said. “But because our funding has been reduced so much, we are turning away 25 to 35 qualified students every year.”
Oklahoma’s spending on education per student ranks 47th in the nation.
If Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics could add another 100 students who continued with STEM studies at the same rate as prior graduates (85 percent) and then returned to work in Oklahoma in the same proportion (over 50 percent) that could mean a homegrown pipeline of 40 to 50 additional engineers, scientists, and computer programmers each year to power Oklahoma’s innovation economy.
The state’s annual budget is more than $7 billion. The cost of funding Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics at current levels, plus enough investment to educate an additional 100+ students in STEM represents less than one-tenth of one percent of the total state budget.
Do the math.
It doesn’t take a degree in calculus or physics to figure out how smart an investment that would be.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
DID YOU KNOW? The U.S. Education Department reports that nearly 50 percent of bachelor degree candidates who entered a STEM program left the field before graduation. However, 85 percent of the OSSM students who have been out of OSSM long enough to complete at least one degree have remained in a technical field.