The Job Equation

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Infographic showing percentage of undergraduate degrees in STEM majors: 8.3 % in biology; 2.4% in math; 2.4% in mechanical engineering; 2.3% in nursing; 2.1% in biochemistry; 22.5% in other stem majors.

Background Image: Angelinast/Istock; Photos: University Communications; Photo illustration: Danielle Lawry

The most popular major among UW-Madison freshmen may be undecided, but as they move toward graduation, growing numbers of students are pursuing degrees in academic disciplines known as STEM — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

STEM majors, including those geared toward health professions, now account for about 40 percent of undergraduate degrees and make up half of the top-ten list of the most popular majors on campus. (Biology ranks number one.) And the UW is graduating about one thousand more students with such degrees each year than its peer universities, on average.

Jobs in these fields were projected to grow at nearly twice the rate of other fields between 2008 and 2018, and workers with STEM degrees earn 26 percent more than their counterparts, according to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

At the UW’s School of Nursing, undergraduate applications have increased 74 percent since 2000, says Karen Mittelstadt, the school’s assistant dean for academic programs. The rate at which nursing graduates land jobs plays a role, she says, as students and their families weigh the cost of higher education when they look at possible career paths.

“Nursing is a major where it’s easy to see, ‘If I come in as a nursing major, I leave as a nurse,’” she says. “The STEM fields lend themselves to that equation — major equals career — more so than the humanities and some of the social sciences.”

The school now offers direct admission into the major for a select group of freshmen. This year, 255 students applied for 25 slots.

The STEM boom doesn’t mean that some other majors aren’t also on the rise at the UW. The last decade saw big increases in students declaring majors in economics, international studies, and Spanish.

Published in the Winter 2015 issue

Tags: Engineering, Math, Science, Students, technology

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