Supply of American STEM Graduates Is Far from Lacking, Study Finds
May 29, 2013
The accepted rhetoric has been that American schools aren't producing enough science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates to fill the jobs in the burgeoning IT sector. Thus, employers are forced to bring in overseas workers in order with the skills they need. But new data is telling a different story. A recent report According to the EPI report, only half of all U.S. college graduates with STEM degrees are hired into STEM jobs. In IT/computer science and engineering, the report finds, "of the computer science graduates not entering the IT workforce, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations." That counters the mentality behind the current immigration bills proposed in Congress, which, according to the EPI, "include various provisions to increase the supply of guest workers for STEM employers," such as "expanding the current temporary visa programs by increasing the H-1B visa cap and providing permanent residency to nonresident foreign students who graduate from a U.S. college in a STEM field." The EPI's research, which focused on the IT/computer science field, concluded that "the supply of [STEM graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry." Taking a close look at the STEM job market itself doesn't support the notion that IT companies struggling to fill positions. If that were the case, they would be bidding up salaries in an effort to attract scarce talent. But, as American Prospect Hal Salzman, a professor at Rutgers University and one of the authors of the EPI study, told Inc. The EPI report finds that real wages in IT are, in fact, "hovering around their late 1990s levels," after the dot-com bubble burst in 2001, and as a result "a declining number of both guest workers and U.S. students entered the IT pipeline." But since then, the number of IT college graduates has recovered modestly, while the number of guest workers has increased sharply. And, it turns out, foreign workers are not necessarily better qualified than American applicants. As the EPI study finds, "among IT workers, 36 percent do not have a four-year college degree. Among the 64 percent who do have diplomas, only 38 percent have a computer science or math degree." In other words, while the U.S. is producing more and more graduates capable of taking the jobs, even in times of high unemployment, employers are using more and more foreign workers. So why, asks the Washington Post The answer, the Post goes on to explain, is that H-1B workers only earn about 80 percent of what Americans do in similar jobs. So while the number of qualified STEM graduates represents a relatively small percentage of American college graduates, there are still plenty of them for the available jobs. But many are being overlooked because of less expensive foreign workers, or are finding better jobs outside of IT. The long-term ramifications pose frightening prospects for U.S. STEM graduates. An increase in H-1B visas could further crowd American STEM graduates out of work. A bleak job market for STEM graduates would entice fewer and fewer Americans to study those disciplines. Eventually, companies really might have to look elsewhere for employees as American capacity for technological innovation weakens.