Big STEM Inaccuracy

, Malcolm A. Kline, 3 Comments

Throughout America, debates about what to do about the shortage of science, technology, engineering and math graduates have been going on for at least a decade from the halls of Congress to most university campuses. It apparently never occurred to any of the thought leaders who participated in them that they might be mistaken.

“The country has twice as many people with STEM degrees as there are STEM jobs,” Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), said at the National Press Club on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. With Karen Zieigler, Camarota co-authored a study on the so-called STEM crisis for CIS.

The relatively apolitical Rand Institute, the liberal Urban Institute and the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute reached similar conclusions. “Rand found there’s no evidence such shortages have existed since at least 1990,” Camerota said at the press club launch for his CIS report. Michael Teitelbaum, Ph.D.: Senior Research Associate, Harvard Law School, said on the CIS panel at the press club that “researchers are usually surprised that there is no STEM shortage.”

Moreover, efforts to, in essence, “stem the STEM shortage,” by importing immigrants to fill such vacancies has only created, well, more unemployment. “ Despite the economic downturn, Census Bureau data show that, between 2007 and 2012, about 700,000 new immigrants who have STEM degrees were allowed to settle in the country, yet at the same time, total STEM employment grew by only about 500,000,” Camerota and Zeigler write in the CIS report. “Of these new immigrants with STEM degrees, only a little more than a third took a STEM job and about the same share took a non-STEM job. The rest were not working in 2012.”

Similarly, there is a contention among the powers-that-be, that students who, early in their academic careers, evince some interest in STEM activities are somehow lost in the academic “pipeline.” On the CIS panel, B. Lindsay Lowell, Ph.D.: Director of Policy Studies, Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, claimed that this too was more mythological than factual. “Recently, we’ve had one-third more students interested in STEM careers,” he said.

Interestingly, there is one growth area among STEM occupations. “Petroleum engineering has gone from a backwater to the hot energy area in just five years,” Teitelbaum avers. “After going down for 20 years, we’re going up.”

Camerota noted that in petroleum engineering, the supply of graduates with STEM degrees comes very close to meeting the demand for just jobs. He attributes the trend to the increased use of the much derided practice of “fracking,” which Investopedia defines as “A slang term for hydraulic fracturing. Fracking refers to the procedure of creating fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks to force them further open. The larger fissures allow more oil and gas to flow out of the formation and into the wellbore, from where it can be extracted.

Fracking has resulted in many oil and gas wells attaining a state of economic viability, due to the level of extraction that can be reached.”

“Petroleum engineers have used fracking as a means of increasing well production since the late 1940s. Fractures can also exist naturally in formations, and both natural and man-made fractures can be widened by fracking. As a result, more oil and gas can be extracted from a given area of land.”