Oklahoma’s public colleges conferred a record number of degrees and certificates last academic year, with a growing number of them in the STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“We are at record levels of degrees conferred — 35,551 degrees and certificates awarded for the 2013 academic year,” Tony Hutchison said at a meeting of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
“Most importantly, we’ve increased STEM degrees by 28 percent over the last five years,” said Hutchison, vice chancellor for strategic planning, analysis and workforce and economic development.
That is significant because Oklahoma jobs in the STEM fields will grow by 19 percent this decade, according to a Georgetown University report on workforce needs.
The total degrees conferred in 2013-14, included 6,116 STEM degrees, an increase of 3.9 percent from the previous year.
Twenty-three percent of those STEM degrees were in engineering, followed by biological/biomedical at 17.9 percent. The number of degrees awarded in computer and information science nearly doubled in the past five years.
The four biggest degree-production areas overall are business management, engineering and engineering technologies, health professions and education.
While all degrees are important to the economy, STEM degrees are especially important to meet projected workforce demands, Hutchison said.
Preparation is key
Most students know the STEM fields are good areas to go into, Hutchison said, but many lack the preparation and ability to succeed in the required college courses.
The state’s higher education system puts an emphasis on that with remedial math courses and programs like the Summer Academies, he said.
“It’s a preparation pipeline problem, and we’re making a dent in that,” Hutchison said, “and we need to continue on with that.”