Key Findings

  1. Interest in STEM is high. Almost half (48.3%) of students in the 2013 ACT-tested graduating class have an interest in STEM majors or occupations. While these are encouraging numbers, more must be done to keep these students engaged in STEM fields.
    • 23.4% of students had an expressed interest only in STEM. Intervention strategies for the students with an expressed interest only allow students to understand what takes place in a specific major or occupation and defines an educational plan for the student.
    • 8.5% of students had a measured interest only in STEM. ACT Interest Inventory results suggest an inherent interest in a STEM major or occupation, yet they have not expressed an interest in pursuing a STEM major. A wider net must be cast with the goal of guiding and nurturing students with an expressed and/or measured interest so they can understand how to experience success in STEM fields. More must be done to identify and foster this interest earlier in students’ educational experiences.
  2. Achievement levels in math and science are highest when expressed and measured interest match. ACT’s College Choice Report, Part 1, released in November 2013, showed the importance an expressed and measured interest match has on students’ progression into postsecondary education. We see the same influence on achievement levels in STEM. Across all four STEM areas, student achievement was highest for those with both expressed and measured interest, typically followed by expressed only and ending with measured only. Students interested in Engineering and Technology were most likely to meet the math and science Benchmarks. Overall Benchmark attainment percentages are consistent between expressed and measured interest, except in the area of math, meaning academically the difference between these groups is in math, not science. This raises the question of whether math proficiency dampens student interest or, more importantly, if it impacts whether a student enters any of the STEM fields.
  3. Surprisingly, more female than male students are interested in STEM, although the opposite is true among higher-achieving students. The overall percent of females interested in STEM majors and occupations is a surprising 46%, of which the largest percentage (24%) are interested in nursing (LPN and BS/RN). Across all four STEM areas, however, males consistently outperformed females in math and science, with the exception of the females interested in Engineering and Technology. Females were more prevalent in the expressed and measured cohort, suggesting they have an inherent interest in STEM fields, which contradicts the low representation of women in the STEM fields.
  4. The academic achievement gap that exists in general for ethnically diverse students is even more pronounced among those interested in the STEM fields. With the exception of Asian students, 61% of whom were interested in STEM, the number of ethnic minority students (African American, Hispanic, and Native American) interested in STEM fields is low, as are their achievement levels in math and science. Among African American students interested in STEM, the vast majority have an expressed interest only. Among measured interest only students, Hispanic students have a greater representation than other minority groups. A real opportunity exists for a meaningful discussion with these students on what STEM careers entail in terms of educational planning and achievement.
  5. Students interested in STEM have higher educational aspirations, and their parents are more likely to have attended college than those not interested in STEM. There are significant differences in math and science achievement levels for students interested in attaining an associate’s degree or lower versus those aspiring to attain a bachelor’s degree or higher. A similar trend occurs in terms of parents’ level of education, with significant differences in achievement levels in math and science occurring as parents’ level of education increases. ACT’s The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2013: First-Generation Students report, released in November 2013, also found troubling levels of academic achievement for first-generation students. Those first-generation students who are interested in STEM have only slightly higher achievement levels in both math and science. Essentially, stronger and earlier support structures and interventions related to career and educational planning and academic preparedness are needed to see real differences in these still-troubling numbers.