The University Network

NYU’s Efforts to Encourage More American Students to Pursue STEM Degrees

New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering would like to have more American students enrolled in its graduate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. To accomplish its objective, the school has recently established a bridge program for college students and invested in a K12 STEM Education program, which is designed to bring training programs to teachers as well as direct programs for K-12 students.  

NYU’s efforts are much needed, especially with the recent trend across U.S. universities showing that graduate programs in STEM are comprised of significantly more international students than American students.

National STEM Trend

In the 2012-2013 academic year, for example, international students earned more than half of the advanced STEM degrees in the U.S., according to a Pew Research Center survey.

The survey showed that while international students earned just 11.6 percent of all doctorates in the 2012-2013 academic year, they earned 56.9 percent of all doctoral degrees in engineering, 52.5 percent of all doctorates in computer and information sciences, and 50 percent of all doctorates in mathematics and statistics.

The numbers were similarly high for graduate STEM degrees during the same academic year. International students earned 43 percent of all graduate degrees in engineering, 44 percent of all graduate degrees in computer and information sciences, and 43 percent of all graduate degrees in mathematics and statistics.

There were fewer international STEM students at the undergraduate level during that period, but the percentage was still significant. While international students received only 3.5 percent of bachelor’s degrees, they earned 7.9 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in engineering, 10 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and statistics, and 6.7 degrees of all bachelor’s degrees in architecture and related services.

Likewise, a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board shows that in the fall of 2015, about 55 percent of all graduate students in mathematics, computer sciences, and engineering programs were international. There were 58.5 percent international students in engineering and 63.2 percent international students in mathematics and computer science.

What’s driving the trend?

“The job market for STEM graduates is competitive at present; as we move to a world where more and more of our tasks are automated, computerized and technologically driven there will be more jobs than there are graduates,” said Katepalli R. Sreenivasan, dean of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. “For example, we already know that there are more jobs on the horizons for Computer Scientists than there are people entering the field. There will always be jobs for those with a Bachelor’s degree, but the expertise that comes with honing one’s knowledge through a Masters degree (e.g., cybersecurity, mechatronics) will ensure that the workforce is better prepared and ready to tackle the issues better.”

The trend is also a result of the cultural difference in the way graduate-level education is viewed here and abroad.

“You can believe that U.S. bachelor’s students, if they’re good, can go get a job at Microsoft or Google with a bachelor’s degree,” Edward D. Lazowska, professor of computer science at the University of Washington, told the New York Times.

Oppositely, many international students feel that getting a graduate level education in the U.S. will give them a competitive edge both here and in their home country.

Niveditha Nandakumar, a second-year graduate student studying engineering management at George Washington University, is a typical example. Nandakumar came to the U.S. from India for advanced research and employment opportunities.

“The jobs we get right after school here give us a little more than what we would get right out of school in India,” she told the GW Hatchet. “They land a better job here, and once they bring the experience back to India, they are valued more in India – they can use that leverage.”

NYU Tandon School’s Efforts

Sreenivasan believes that the trend “is a concern for the U.S. as a whole,” even though “we ourselves are no worse or better than we were before, and are better than many.”

“But our concern is real,” he said. “We are trying to create a pipeline for domestic master’s students.”

His strategy for creating a pipeline is to encourage American college students without engineering backgrounds to obtain advanced STEM degrees and to inspire early interest in STEM in New York City public schools.

To equip college students without engineering backgrounds to apply to select graduate-level programs at the Tandon School, the school has recently established “A Bridge Program to NYU Tandon.” Students can “upgrade” their math, science or engineering knowledge by taking intensive online programs, which are either 26-week or 17-week in duration. These programs are available in all four semesters.

To encourage early interest in STEM, the school has in place the U12 STEM Education program. In 2015, the school committed to train 500 New York City public school teachers over the next 10 years, so they could bring hands-on projects and experiments to the classroom.

The school has begun linking up with local nonprofits and school districts to allow high school graduates the freedom to make the choice of going into a STEM field for an undergraduate or graduate degree, rather than having that decision made for them by a lack of foundation in STEM education.

The program is projected to reach over 50,000 public school students in the New York City area.

Thirty-four percent of Americans would agree with what the school is trying to do, according to a recent Pew Research Report. They too would “encourage high school students to get jobs in a STEM-related field, such as medicine or health care.” While 19 percent would suggest a health-related career, 14 percent would recommend technology.

Sreenivasan believes in the value of an advanced STEM degree and the benefits of diversity on campus.

“There is always a place for Master’s graduates in the workplace (and more importantly there is a place for both domestic and international students in American Universities and eventually workplaces),” said Sreenivasan. “We have a strong track record of producing International MS students who go on to either work in the U.S. or abroad, and appreciate the diversity that they bring to the campus, just as we appreciate the diversity that women and students from underrepresented communities in STEM disciplines bring to the campus.”

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