Science & Engineering | Research

ACT Report: Many Students Interested in STEM Aren’t Pursuing It

A new report from ACT reveals a pool of students who are interested in STEM areas but are not planning to pursue a STEM career. The ACT national and state report series, “The Condition of STEM 2013,” examines the expressed and measured interests of high school graduates in the class of 2013 who took the ACT college readiness exam. Expressed interest is when students say they intend to pursue a particular major or occupation. Measured interest is derived from students’ responses to the ACT Interest Inventory, which measures preferences for different work tasks.

A total of 48 percent of the ACT-tested 2013 graduates had expressed and/or measured interest in STEM, including 16 percent who had both. Twenty-three percent had only expressed interest, planning to pursue a STEM career even though their inventory results suggested that other fields may be better aligned to their interests. But nearly one out of every 10 graduates (9 percent) had only measured interest in STEM; they had no plans to pursue a STEM major or career despite their interest in doing so.

According to Jon Erickson, ACT’s president of education and career solutions, “Nothing is more costly to the nation than untapped potential, and that’s why we must do more to ensure that all students understand the career opportunities that match their interests, particularly those that exist in important STEM fields. If we can identify students earlier and then keep them engaged, they may be more likely to choose a STEM career.”

ACT’s report also points to a gap between STEM interest and preparation. Around half of the graduates planning to pursue STEM majors and careers were not ready to succeed in first-year math or science coursework in college. Readiness was higher among students with both expressed and measured interest.

About the Author

Christopher Piehler is the former editor-in-chief of THE Journal.

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