Aviation’s ability to recruit sufficient engineers and mechanics depends on many factors. One is the preparation that students get in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. That preparation has been deficient in one major market, the U.S., but there are signs it may be improving.
There is widespread public support for improved STEM education among the American public, and legislation under consideration looks to dramatically improve opportunities for STEM learning, James Brown, executive director of the STEM Education Coalition, told attendees at the recent Aviation Technician Education Council conference.
Brown first reviewed public sentiment, critical to legislative action, on the current state of STEM teaching in American schools. Fully 28% of U.S. adults, and 35% of public school parents, want improved STEM education. That is dramatically higher that the portions that seek better English (19%) or history (12%) instruction. Moreover, fully 70% of adults say schools should offer afterschool STEM classes,
On the legislative front, Brown noted that the Every Child Succeeds Act of 2015 provides an opportunity for better funding of STEM teaching. Under previous law only $150 million of Federal funds were available to assist states in providing STEM classes. Under ESSA, up to $4 billion will be possible, depending on Congress’s decisions.
These funds could be used to support STEM competitions, bring STEM courses to high-need schools, establish STEM-focused specialty schools, support hands-on learning in STEM fields or integrate in-school and afterschool STEM programs. Brown noted that states and school districts must do a need assessment, based on workforce requirements, to receive funds. Funds can also be used to improve the quality of STEM teaching.
Many states all already moving on their own. Brown said 17 states have or are considering including science assessments in their accountability systems for public education. Others will likely follow if funds support STEM.
At the end of the educational pipeline, Brown stressed there are heathy rewards for STEM specialization. Engineers were among the best-paid college graduates in 2012-2013, with aerospace engineers starting their careers at $64,400 a year. And half of STEM jobs did not require a college degree, but paid $53,000 a year, 10% more than non-STEM jobs with similar educational requirements.