Op Ed: The future of education will be spelled S-T-E-M

  • Thursday, June 6, 2013

By Sen. Yancey McGill

The months of May and June are often thought of as the time where we enjoy the flowers brought to us by April showers.

In a parallel to that, students of varying ages are rewarded for their hard work in the months preceding May and June by earning either their college degree or high school diploma.

Itís not just the students who reap the rewards, though. Itís our region as a whole.

Considering our region has three universities and four technical colleges, our workforce has the ability to be one of the most effective and efficient in the country and on the cutting edge of one of the most important movements in recent education history.

Education wise, South Carolina has established itself to be on the forefront of the STEM education, which focuses on the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Educational partnerships between stakeholders in business, industry and the Pee Dee and coastal region school districts have taken on a new importance in our area.

The economic and educational success of our region demands that all stakeholders be aware of the importance implementing a focus on the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and the implications it will have on our future job market.

STEM education must be made a reality for our students if they are to have the knowledge, skills and expertise needed to compete and secure jobs in the 21st centuryís global workforce.

Across the nation, many jobs are going unfilled for the simple fact that the native workforce is lacking in certain skills, and according to the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, leaving more than half a million unfilled jobs in the United States.

One school in our area, Southside Middle School in the Florence School District 1 system, participated in an initiative led by Clemson University and the South Carolina Coalition for Mathematics and Science. Within a three-year time frame of focusing on math and science specifically, the school reported tremendous gains in both its achievement gap, which was narrowed to one percent from 10 percent three years earlier and grade-level student achievement, which increased 15 percent from 2009 to 2011.

While there are a number of success stories from within our region that highlight the benefits of STEM curriculum, itís something that we, as facilitators of business and economic development need to embrace more keenly.

With the number of quality businesses that have located to our area within the past few years, itís safe to say our state and the NESA region are on the right path when it comes to STEM education and supplying major businesses with an educated workforce.

When it comes to the benefits of STEM curriculum, it doesnít just end with the corporations or their communities. The workers themselves likely benefit the most. According to US News, regardless of occupation, people with a bachelorís degree in a STEM major make roughly $500,000 more over their lifetimes than non-STEM majors. Over the past 30 years, salaries in STEM-related jobs have jumped faster than those in any other occupation other than healthcare professionals and managerial occupations.

Adding on to that, STEM wages have jumped more than 31 percent over the past 30 years, compared with 23 percent for all non-STEM occupations.
Further emphasizing the need for a STEM-focused education system, the unemployment rate for workers with a degree in a STEM field faced just a 5.3 percent unemployment rate, compared to 10 percent for all others according to the STEM Education Coalition.

We should be proud of the strides weíve made when it comes to educating our students to be a part of a 21st century workforce. The benefit to the region doesnít end when a student graduates. It creates a ripple effect that produces more jobs, a higher quality of life and a better future for everyone.

Sen. J. Yancey McGill is the chairman of the executive committee of the North Eastern Strategic Alliance. He lives in Kingstree and represents a portion of Georgetown County in the South Carolina Senate.

Opinions that appear on this page in Letters to the Editor or in columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

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