Key aspects of the STEM Education Report shows that interest among high-school students in science, technology, engineering and math has increased by 21% since 2004. This is including a breakdown of STEM interest by race and ethnicity and a top ten list of STEM interest areas. 

High school students are increasingly interested in pursuing STEM majors and careers, a new report finds, with about 1 in 4 now stating such an inclination. But a longstanding gender gap is widening, the data show, with fewer females than males signaling STEM interest.

Overall, STEM interest has climbed by 21 percent among high schoolers when comparing the class of 2004 with the class of 2013, according to the report from My College Options and STEMconnector.

Mechanical engineering was by far the top major or career choice for current high school students interested in the STEM fields, selected by 20 percent of respondents. Second place goes to biology, at 12 percent.

Meanwhile, female interest in STEM began to decline starting with the class of 2010, the data show, while it is climbing for males. In all, 38 percent of males in the class of 2013 report a STEM interest, compared with just 15 percent of females.

Organizers are hosting a live and virtual townhall meeting today at 3 p.m. Eastern to discuss the report’s findings, with guest speakers to include Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. Although there is no charge for the townhall meeting, and a briefhighlights summary of the report is available for free, the full report, which includes national and state-by-state data, costs $195.

Recovering from a ‘Dramatic Dip’

The report comes amid strong and growing national interest in the need to encourage more young people to actively pursue advanced study and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In fact, President Obama himself has made a point of repeatedly using his bully pulpit to talk up STEM education, and has begun hosting an annual White House Science Fair to generate more awareness. In 2010, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report, “Prepare and Inspire,” which also highlights the need to get more young people to pursue the STEM fields, especially minorities and females.

On the gender gap, here’s a few more data points. Surveys of current high school students for the graduating classes of 2014, 2015, and 2016 show the gap widening even further. For the class of 2016, 45 percent of males say they’re interested in a STEM major or career, compared with 13 percent of females.

Leaving aside the troubling gender divide, the news about the overall gain in STEM interest among U.S. students may not be as encouraging as it sounds to those worried about ensuring a strong STEM workforce. That’s because the national increase really only bring the United States back to where it was at an earlier point in time, said Ryan Munce, a vice president at My College Options, an organization operated by the nonprofit National Research Center for College and University Admissions that collected this data.

“The biggest part of that is the dramatic dip in the early 2000s, and what we’ve seen over the course of the last decade is it really coming back to historical averages,” he told me.

The new report is not just focused on STEM interest. It also highlights national and state-by-state data on job prospects in the STEM fields. Experts tell me that the data on future STEM jobs have been available for some time, but that the survey information on student interest has not. In any case, the report cites a federal estimate that there will be at least 8.7 million U.S. STEM jobs in 2018, up from 7.4 million today.

The report probes differences in STEM interest not just by gender, but also by race and ethnicity. These differences, however, are less pronounced. Here’s a snapshot of the share of students indicating a STEM interest:

• Asian: 32.8 percent
• American Indian: 29.6 percent
• White: 27.1 percent
• Hispanic: 25.1 percent
• African American: 22.5 percent

Differences by household income level were slight, less than 2 percent.

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