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Charles's avatar

Where have all the science majors gone?

Asked by Charles (4815points) May 8th, 2012

“The number of computer science degrees awarded to U.S. citizens from 2004 to 2007 (the latest figures available) declined 27%, according to the National Science Board. But the shortfall isn’t just in computer science. Neither universities nor high schools are preparing enough U.S. students in so-called STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and math. While observers blame different causes—lousy secondary schools, boring college courses, lazy students—few deny a crisis exists.”

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15 Answers

yankeetooter's avatar

I’m here… waving

JLeslie's avatar

I have a theory, but I don’t know if it has any validity. Part of the reason might be because 20–30 years ago everyone was talking about how computers are going to be where the jobs are at, there was an explosion of technology back then, and everyone saw it as the next frontier for jobs. Also, the car industry has been tanking in the last 15 years, with some improvement recently, lay offs were big in dot coms in the late 90’s and early 2,000’s. I think there are probably several other reasons, laziness might be one, lack of interesting teachers in the sciences in secondary schools might be another. Just guessing.

jrpowell's avatar

Who needs science when you have God?

At least for the computer part (software) most find that you don’t need a formal education. I get paid to write software. I have only taken a few classes on software development. Everything I need to know can be found with a search on google.

ETpro's avatar

Great question. We have a two-party political system in which one of the two major parties declared war on science about 30 years ago. With that large, organized opposition to science and education in general (except for private schools for those that can afford them) it’s little wonder science is in serious decline in the USA.

Charles's avatar

What about money? Does a sales weasel make more money than a good engineer?

JLeslie's avatar

@Charles Sales Weasel? Not everyone in sales is a weasel. As far as who makes more money, it depends what industry they are in.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

@Charles, like @JLeslie asks, what kind of sales “weasel” are you thinking of comparing to what kind of engineer? Yes, there are many branches of sales that easily yield over $100K a year. Why does that irritate you?

Aethelflaed's avatar

The New York Times had an article about this a while back.
But, it turns out, middle and high school students are having most of the fun, building their erector sets and dropping eggs into water to test the first law of motion. The excitement quickly fades as students brush up against the reality of what David E. Goldberg, an emeritus engineering professor, calls “the math-science death march.” Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash out…For educators, the big question is how to keep the momentum being built in the lower grades from dissipating once the students get to college… “We’re losing an alarming proportion of our nation’s science talent once the students get to college,” says Mitchell J. Chang, an education professor at U.C.L.A. who has studied the matter. “It’s not just a K-12 preparation issue.”

JLeslie's avatar

@Aethelflaed You just reminded me I saw a show on this. Maybe it was 60 Minutes? It mentioned that some colleges had people dropping out of science progtams at alarming rates, and that some schools were much more successful. What stuck with me was the government (I don’t remember if it was state or federal) was going to give money to the school that had bunches of students dropping out of the program to try and improve things, and all I could think was that sounds like throwing good money after bad. Why not give money to the schools that have a successful program and increase their student body in those subjects?

Aethelflaed's avatar

@JLeslie I don’t know, but off the top of my head – there’s a limit to how much you can increase a campus, before having to really invest long-term money. More buildings with more classrooms, bathrooms, outlets, etc, and then the faculty to staff them… And that’s really not even looking at dorms.

JLeslie's avatar

@Aethelflaed Yeah, of course there are those realities :). It still does not justify giving money to a program that sucks. It justdidn’t sound like they had a specific plan to make the classes more interesting for the students, and that is what the piece focused on, that the students had interesting classes that kept them wanting to continue in the major.

I wish I had majored in Packaging Engineering. For me it was some laziness and lack of guidance at the university.

RocketGuy's avatar

In the 60s, Apollo inspired kids (like me). In the 80s, the Space Shuttle inspired more kids. In the 2000s, we got the Space Station but got NASA budget cuts too. Who wants to strive to work for an organization that is headed down hill?

ETpro's avatar

@RocketGuy Sadly, kids flock to our Universities for top notch science educations; but when they get their degree, they go back to their home country.

Mariah's avatar

Hi! Computer science major here! From my point of view there’s no lack of interest, but I go to a technical college. Everyone here majors in STEM fields!

But really, I agree with @RocketGuy. I used to dream of working for NASA, but the fact that NASA’s budget is dwindling made it seem like a risky goal to pursue.

Also consider, a degree in most any science field is going to pretty much necessitate at least some graduate school, likely a Ph. D. College costs are so high, it’s hard to think about all those years of schooling. That doesn’t apply so much to engineering or computer science, though. Big part of the reason why I’m in CS rather than physics right now, actually.

I also think our culture plays a part in it. STEM fields are never made to seem sexy. I think it’s a shame we worship rockstars and actors but not astronauts.

nikipedia's avatar

I am not sure how relevant this is as I don’t know how much it’s changed over the years, but I certainly think a big discouraging factor is the difficulty level. In the science classes I’ve taken and taught, a C is a pretty good grade (not great, but it means you understood a good portion of the material and did most of the assignments). I have a friend who teaches composition classes and was very upset that she got a paper that was so bad she had to give a C.

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