Math Training Drives Successful Entry Into Engineering

By Staff
August 7, 2009

Do the math. This sums up one conclusion from a recent study on students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math. Released last month by the U.S. Department of Education "Students Who Study Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in Postsecondary Education" suggests that robust coursework in math, starting in high school and continuing through college-holds one key to lucrative engineering careers.

The report indicates that high grades in advanced math courses give college students a boost in completing majors in the STEM fields. Summing up their results, researchers wrote: "Strong academic preparation in high school was associated with a higher STEM degree completion rate. For example, students who took trigonometry, precalculus, or calculus in high school; earned a high school GPA of B or higher; obtained college entrance exam scores in the highest quarter; and expected to attain a graduate degree in the future all had higher rates of STEM degree completion (including STEM bachelor's degrees) and lower rates of leaving college without earning any credential than did their peers without these characteristics."

It may be because of the rigor of the background required that engineering is less apt than other majors to attract students who began in other fields. Indeed, a study from the Multiple-Institution Database for Investigating Engineering Development confirms the lack of mobility into the engineering major, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Researchers examined the records of 70,000 engineering students from nine institutions in the southeast over 17 years ending in 2005. The study found that 93 percent of students earning engineering degrees started with this major, pointing to low rates of "migration" into the field. In contrast, roughly half of students graduating with an undergraduate degree in social sciences began with that major. The study also documented widely varying retention rates, over eight semesters, of 66 percent to 37 percent at the nine engineering programs.

Meanwhile, the business world continues to reward those who slog through the complexities of calculus and beyond. Math skills comprise the common thread among college degrees that command the highest salaries, post-graduation, reports CNNMoney.

A study of college graduates' employment recently released by the National Association of Colleges and Employers documents this promising trend. The highest salaries, concludes the survey, go to hires in the fields of petroleum, chemical and mining engineering. "Math is at the crux of who gets paid," said Ed Koc, NACE researcher director, to CNNMoney. "If you have those skills, you are an extremely valuable asset. We don't generate enough people like that in this country."

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