Education programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) play an important role in preparing students for careers in STEM fields and in enhancing the nation’s global competitiveness.
On National STEM Day, today’s WatchBlog explores the federal government’s role in supporting STEM education.
Programs range from early years to graduate learning
Federal STEM programs can range from preschool programs to those at graduate schools. These programs have a variety of goals, such as preparing students for STEM coursework, providing postsecondary students with grants in STEM fields, and improving STEM teacher training. The federal government spent nearly $3 billion dollars on these programs in FY16.
Investments in STEM education
We found that, although federal investment in STEM education programs remained relatively stable between FYs 2010 and 2016, the actual number of programs declined from 209 to 163.
13 federal agencies administer these programs—including NASA, the National Science Foundation, USDA, DOD, and DOE. While these agencies reported that many of the same STEM education programs existed during this time period, there were also a number of program consolidations, creations, and terminations. Additionally, nearly all STEM education programs overlapped to some degree with at least one other program in FY16—that is, they offered similar services to similar groups in similar STEM fields to achieve similar objectives.
Improving the STEM education portfolio
We found that the Committee on STEM Education—an interagency body responsible for coordinating federal STEM education programs—has not fully met its responsibilities to assess the portfolio of STEM education programs as it is required to do. Specifically, the Committee has not reviewed or documented the performance assessments of these programs or reported on the participation rates of underrepresented groups. We recommended that it take these actions in order to improve federal STEM education programs. These steps could include sharing promising practices that agencies could use in designing or revising their programs. The Committee agreed with these actions and has made efforts toward implementing them. For example, the Committee established a cross-agency STEM Education Evaluation Working Group that is exploring the types of evaluations agencies are conducting, sharing best practices, and discussing potential solutions to common evaluation barriers.
To learn more about federal STEM education programs, read our report.