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The Government Accountability Office released a study May 3 which found that the proportion of postsecondary students obtaining degrees in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields has fallen significantly.

While 32 percent of postsecondary students obtained degrees in STEM fields in 1994 and 1995, the percentage fell to 27 percent in 2003 and 2004.

College and university officials and students cited subpar teacher quality, poor high school preparation and more rigorous and expensive degree requirements for STEM majors as factors that discouraged the pursuit of STEM degrees.

Participants in the study also cited lower pay in STEM occupations relative to law and business fields as discouraging factors in pursuing these degrees.

The study was conducted in response to concerns that have been raised about the United States’ ability to maintain its global technological competitive advantage in the future, an area on which the federal government has spent billions of dollars.

Employment in STEM fields rose 23 percent from 1994-2003, with the greatest gains in computer science and mathematics, compared to a growth of only 17 percent in non-STEM fields.

These findings are echoed in a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released May 5 finding that the greatest need for high-skilled workers over the next decade will be in health care, education, accounting and computer services.

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