U.S. Youth Reluctant to Pursue STEM Careers, ASQ Survey Says

For Immediate Release

Teens See Value of STEM Jobs; Concerned They Won’t Measure Up

Milwaukee, Wis., Jan. 31, 2012 — While teens rank some STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) -related careers as offering the best chance of getting a job in the future, 67 percent of youth in grades 6–12 who are interested in pursuing a career in STEM say they are concerned about the obstacles they would face, according to an ASQ survey conducted online in December by Harris Interactive.

The survey was fielded among 713 youth in grades 6–12 and a complementary survey was fielded online among 327 parents of children aged 10–17. Both studies polled respondents on their attitudes about STEM careers and study, and fielded in anticipation of National Engineers Week, Feb. 19–25. ASQ has more than 14,000 member engineers who say they are concerned about ensuring a highly skilled work force and educated engineers for the future.

STEM — Where the Jobs Are

Many students in grades 6–12 agree that certain STEM careers offer the most job opportunities when they graduate from college; 34 percent believe a career as a medical doctor and 26 percent say a career in engineering provide the most job prospects when they are done with school. Careers that fewer students cite as offering the most job opportunities include:

  • Teacher — 19 percent
  • Lawyer — 17 percent
  • Entrepreneur — 16 percent
  • Sales and marketing — 11 percent
  • Accountant — 11 percent

Obstacles To Pursuing STEM Career Path 

Students who indicate interest in STEM careers are equally concerned with three main obstacles to pursuing a STEM career path:

  • The cost and time to get a degree in STEM is too high compared to other subjects — 26 percent.
  • Their grades in STEM subjects of math and science aren’t good enough — 25 percent.
  • STEM degree careers involve too much work and studying compared to other careers — 25 percent.

More than half (53 percent) of parents of 10–17 year olds interested in STEM careers also expressed concerns about their child pursuing a STEM-related career path. The biggest issue, reported by 26 percent of parents, is that their child is not being prepared enough by teachers in STEM subjects. Eighteen percent also worry that their child’s grades in STEM subjects aren’t good enough and that the cost and time involved in getting a STEM degree is too high compared to other degrees.

Computer Time Trumps Studying

Pursuing STEM careers requires a pointed focus on education. While 55 percent of students say they spend more time doing schoolwork than extracurricular activities, many admit to spending more time on other activities than schoolwork, which may play a factor in concerns about studying and grades needed to succeed in STEM. According to the report:

  • Students: 51 percent say they spend more time after school on the computer, browsing the Internet or playing games, than on schoolwork, such as studying and reading.
  • Parents: 54 percent say that their child is spending more after school time on their computer than on schoolwork.
  • Students: 54 percent say math is their most challenging subject compared to other subjects, while 44 percent say science is the most difficult.
  • Parents: 56 percent say that math is their child’s most challenging subject compared to other subjects, while 44 percent say that science is their child’s most difficult subject.

“It’s encouraging to see that more students see the value of STEM careers like engineering but clearly STEM professionals and educators can be doing more to support students along this career path,” said Jim Rooney, ASQ chair and quality engineer with ABSG Consulting in Knoxville, Tenn.

Girls and STEM

Some interesting gender differences arise in the study, especially as students enter crucial high school years. Among youth ages 16–18:

  • 30 percent of girls strongly agree that math is their most challenging subject, compared to 19 percent of boys.
  • Girls interested in pursuing a career in STEM are four times more likely than boys interested in pursuing a career in STEM to believe that their teachers are not preparing them well enough in STEM subjects (33 percent vs. 9 percent).

Among youth in grades 6–12, 19 percent of girls believe that engineering will offer the most job opportunities when they graduate compared to 33 percent of boys.

About the Survey Harris Interactive fielded the online youth survey on behalf of ASQ from December 14 to 22, 2011, among 713 youth in grades 6–12. Harris fielded a separate online survey for ASQ between December 13 and December 15, 2011 among 327 U.S. adults age 18 or older, who parents of 10–17 year olds. These online surveys are not based on probability samples and therefore no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated; a full methodology statement including weighting variables for both studies is available by contacting Kevin Braley, senior media relations specialist at (800) 248-1946, ext. 7587, or by email at kbraley@asq.org.

About ASQ ASQ is a global community of people dedicated to quality who share the ideas and tools that make our world work better. With millions of individual and organizational members of the community in 150 countries, ASQ has the reputation and reach to bring together the diverse quality champions who are transforming the world’s corporations, organizations, and communities to meet tomorrow’s critical challenges. ASQ is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis., with national service centers in China, India, and Mexico. Learn more about ASQ’s members, mission, technologies, and training at www.asq.org.

About Harris Interactive Harris Interactive is one of the world’s leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant and consumer package goods. Serving clients in more than 215 countries and territories through our North American and European offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us — and our clients — stay ahead of what’s next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

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ASQ is a global community of people passionate about quality, who use the tools, their ideas and expertise to make our world work better. ASQ: The Global Voice of Quality.