Twenty percent of all jobs in the U.S. required a high level of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in 2011, a number projected to only increase in the coming decades. Statistics like the one above highlight the importance of last week’s hearing of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which focused on the future of STEM education.
Members of the subcommittee, which is responsible for appropriating funds to the Department of Education on an annual basis, also discussed the potential impact of the upcoming Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations bills. In his opening statement, Chairman Roy Blunt (MO) stressed the importance of STEM education in preparing the future workforce for “well-paying careers across all education levels” and specifically pointed out the need to increase diversity as well as the “critical” importance of reinstating Federal Pell Grants. Mr. Larry Plank, (Director of K-12 STEM Education, Hillsborough County Public Schools) highlighted the importance of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) education programs that enhance public awareness and understanding of ocean-related issues and stated his support for continued funding in these efforts. He listed the Bay-Watershed Education and Training program (B-WET), an experiential learning program aimed at increasing understanding and stewardship of watersheds and related ocean, coastal, riverine, estuarine, and Great Lakes ecosystems, and suggested it should be “funded at $12 million to enable NOAA to resume operation of all seven of the regional programs, which impact a total of 27 states and the District of Columbia.” Dr. Sarah Tucker (Chancellor, West Virginia Council for Community & Technical College Education) advocated for community and technical colleges and encouraged partnerships with business and industry, including the oil and gas sector, for equipment and scholarships. Dr. Neil Lamb (Vice President for Educational Outreach, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology) summed up the issue, stating that “national support of STEM literacy is critical” to filling emerging job needs.