OVAE Connection - August 22, 2013 - Issue 164

OVAE Connection

                                                                  August 22, 2013 - Issue 164

“The Hidden STEM Economy”

Jonathan Rothwell, senior research associate and associate fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, a private nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and innovative policy solutions, recently had published The Hidden STEM Economy. The report focuses on the often-overlooked role of workers with less than a four-year degree in today’s STEM economy. Rothwell maintains that the “excessively professional definition of STEM jobs has led to missed opportunities to identify and support valuable training and career development.” STEM workers are a vital component in driving economic growth, but policymakers have focused too intently on STEM workers needing a bachelor’s degree or above, “while overlooking a strong potential workforce of those with less education but substantial STEM skills.”

Rothwell’s analysis of the occupational requirements for STEM knowledge identifies four key findings: 1) As of 2011, 20 percent of all jobs—about 26 million in the current economy—require a high level of knowledge in any one STEM field. 2) Half of all STEM-knowledge jobs can be filled by workers without bachelor’s degrees, and these jobs pay 10 percent more (on average $53,000 per year) than similar non-STEM jobs. These blue-collar jobs are about 30 percent of all high-STEM jobs. 3) Sub-bachelor’s degree STEM jobs are prevalent in every large metropolitan area, unlike those requiring bachelor’s degrees, which are available in a select few areas.  4) Metropolitan economies that are more STEM-oriented are strongest on economic indicators, such as innovation and employment.

Rothwell defines the STEM economy more broadly than is typical in studies of STEM occupations, which focus on jobs that he defines as “high-STEM jobs in any one field.” He is unique in including nonprofessional jobs among “high-STEM jobs” and his definition includes many more jobs that do not require a four-year college degree. Proponents of this expanded definition of STEM jobs maintain that it is a new, more rigorous way to define them and presents a “new portrait” of the STEM economy. Rothwell contends that this is a better understanding of the STEM economy and has policy implications. In his view, the “overemphasis on four-year and higher degrees” as the only path to a career in STEM occupations neglects “cheaper and more widely available pathways” that use community colleges and technical schools to prepare students for STEM occupations. He concludes, “[i]t is difficult to argue, given all the attention it has received, that STEM knowledge is underappreciated. Yet because the focus has been on professional STEM jobs, a number of potentially useful interventions have been ignored. In this sense, jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree represent a hidden and unheralded STEM economy.”

Modernizing the E-Rate Program: An Opportunity to Argue for Your Program’s Eligibility

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently initiated a review and modernization of its E-rate program to focus on 21st century broadband needs of schools and libraries. The Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries, known as “E-rate,” was established in 1996 and represents the federal government's largest education technology program for connecting the nation’s schools and libraries to broadband. The new initiative is the first comprehensive update and revitalization of the program, since it began. The three goals of the modernization are increased high-capacity broadband connectivity, cost-effective purchasing, and streamlined program administration. 

When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed by Congress, only 14 percent of classrooms had Internet access. Now, because of the E-rate program, virtually all schools and libraries have access to modern communications networks. Yet, due to innovative digital learning technologies and the growing importance of connecting students, teachers, and consumers to jobs, life-long learning, and information, an even greater demand for bandwidth in schools and libraries has been created. 

Results from an FCC survey underscore the significance and importance of this modernization effort: Nearly half of the E-rate program respondents reported lower Internet connectivity speed than the average American home—despite having 200 times as many users on average. 

For schools, high-speed broadband access requires an increasingly interactive and individualized learning environment that expands school boundaries, such as distance learning applications. For libraries, this access gives individuals the ability to conduct activities such as applying for jobs, life-long learning, and communicating with friends and family. It also aids both students’ and library patrons’ interactions with federal, state, local, and tribal government agencies. 

The FCC is encouraging all stakeholders to comment on the reform proposals to ensure that schools and libraries have affordable access to high-speed broadband as effectively and efficiently as possible. 

Not only does modernization of the E-rate program give stakeholders an opportunity to share their views, it affords the adult education and community college communities the chance to argue for program eligibility. The comment period runs through Sept. 16, 2013. To submit your comment for proceeding # 13-184, Modernizing the E-rate Program for Schools and Libraries, please access the comment filing page.