A recent study researching the financial futures of minority students pursuing majors in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields showed that these students earn at least 25 percent more than minority students majoring in the humanities or education.
The study, published in the June issue of Research in Higher Education, followed 1,000 Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino and black students over a nine-year period.
Not only did research show financial differences among those with STEM majors, results showed a 50 percent difference in incomes among minorities who obtained jobs in the STEM field versus their peers who pursue professions in the humanities or education.
Tatiana Melguizo, the study’s lead researcher and associate professor at the Rossier School of Education, said that pursuing a STEM major can have a large payoff.
“We need to educate students that if they get a job in a STEM-related occupation, they have an even higher earning premium,” Melguizo said in a statement. “Otherwise, students aren’t reaping the economic benefit of all the hard work they went through as undergrads.”
Anthony Maddox, a professor of clinical education, said the income gap might be the result of the high demand for STEM skills and the need to grow the economy through applications of technology.
Though the research points to the increasing number of lucrative possibilities in the STEM fields compared to those in the humanities, Maddox said a humanities degree still has value.
“Increasingly, work in the STEM fields is highly interdisciplinary,” Maddox said. “By integrating art, design and the humanities with STEM, opportunities could emerge for more students to be involved in STEM-related disciplines.”
Gregory Wolniak, a senior research scientist at independent research organization National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and co-author of the study, said he sees the findings as hopeful evidence of a solution to the nation’s growing competitiveness problem in the science and engineering fields.
Francis Bonahon, chair of the USC mathematics department, said the true problem is the reliance on scientists and engineers who have been trained abroad, which, in the long run, will have a crippling effect on the country.
But Bonahon said middle schools and high schools can be a major roadblock in helping minority students reach their full financial potential.
“Success in the STEM fields often requires the early development of math and quantitative skills, and it is very hard to catch up in college,” Bonahon said. “Students attending good high schools have better STEM opportunities than they used to, while other schools have not seen the same progress.”