Lots of people earn college degrees in STEM disciplines. But how many of them actually use those degrees for STEM-related work? According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the answer is, “Not very many.” In a survey of 3.5 million homes, the agency found that almost 75 percent of those who held a bachelor’s degree in a STEM discipline didn’t actually work a STEM job. In a series of interviews with the Washington Post
, experts seemed divided about the reason for the discrepancy. Census Bureau sociologist Liana Christin Landivar cautioned the newspaper that the agency doesn’t necessarily record all STEM-heavy jobs—such as medical doctors—as actual STEM professions. Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, told the Post that STEM-educated workers who end up in fields such as supply-chain management
are still using many of the technical skills learned in school, even if the job itself isn’t devoted to mathematics or science. The Census Bureau also offered up a nifty interactive visualization
tracing where STEM graduates end up, occupation-wise. While the vast majority of those who graduate with degrees in engineering, computers, mathematics and statistics seem to slot right into STEM fields, a significant number of graduates in the physical sciences, psychology, social sciences, and multidisciplinary studies seem to end up in fields as diverse as education, legal, social services, non-STEM management, and agriculture. Even as a percentage of STEM graduates never use their degree, salaries for STEM workers continue to rise, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution
. Thanks to increased demand for highly skilled workers, the Institution added, STEM jobs requiring a Ph.D. or other professional degree can now stay open for as long as 50 days: “Even sub-bachelor’s STEM job openings take longer to fill than non-STEM jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree.” For years, everyone from CEOs to pundits have blamed the inability to fill STEM jobs on educational institutions’ inability to pump out graduates at a fast enough rate. But the new data from the Census Bureau suggests that the pipeline might not be the whole issue: A number of STEM graduates are simply going to non-STEM jobs.
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Image: U.S. Census Bureau