Answering a call from Texas governor Rick Perry who expressed the need for a ‘$10,000 College Degree’ in 2011, the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB) has approved a 4 year degree costing just $2,500 per year. The degree is offered as part of the Texas Science Scholar Program, in the areas of computer science, chemistry, geology, information systems or mathematics. Plans are to expand the program to other STEM areas. If successful, it is likely that we will see similar programs at more institutions of higher education that encourage study in STEM fields at an affordable price.
This is a notable development in the STEM collective, as multiple entities recognize the need for STEM education and their efforts begin to converge. Private industry has long expressed the need for qualified personnel for unfilled STEM jobs. The Executive Branch has expressed a need for innovation to promote security and leadership for US interests, and Congresspeople from both sides of the aisle have endorsed programs that promote training and awareness to assist in their development. Agencies from DARPA to NASA sponsor competitive events and solicit proposals from engineering students that help drive pushing the innovation envelope to a younger audience. K-12 educators are implementing STEM programs into classrooms at an increasing rate, as teachers step away from the podium and move to facilitate student learning in collaborative groups with meaningful, open ended activities. State and National education standards are quickly developing that reflect the need for proficiency in critical thinking skills that relate Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Despite the quickly growing momentum in STEM, it must be acknowledged that the current state of STEM education and awareness is still very much in its infancy. At the moment, STEM is in shotgun mode, with scattered blasts of funding and partnerships offered from many directions. While most of the players have sets their sights on the same target, the target is moving and not everyone has good aim. All are working toward a common goal of creating more STEM programs, support materials and initiatives, in the hopes of engaging students in the classroom so they will pursue STEM careers. This remains a tremendous undertaking, and a huge responsibility that is borne upon the shoulders of teachers- when one considers that the well being of the country is very much as stake.
What are the moving targets? Technology and Time. Time marches on as it is said, and only forward. Technology moves forward mercilessly as well, but can move laterally too. Both targets moving in different ways effect how STEM education outcomes can be achieved at the ground level. More and more educators have managed at great effort to incorporate successful, and sustainable STEM programs in their schools. But can teachers at large reconcile the daily needs of the classroom with these far reaching implications if they are not successful? Are there other players that have yet to weigh in on STEM education who are critical to their success? And how can we get a handle on the moving targets of technology and time?
Have we finally approached the end of the beginning in STEM education?
We will explore these topics in the second part of this article.