In a recent report titled “The Hidden Stem Economy,” the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program proposed new parameters for defining STEM jobs. A STEM job is any job requiring specialized knowledge in one of the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). The Brookings report proposes to add jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree to the definition that previously included only those requiring a bachelor’s degree or more.
Should the definition change, higher education institutions that offer associate’s degrees and trade certifications in the STEM fields, such as Luzerne County Community College, could potentially receive increased government funding. This is good news for community colleges.
The report also contained positive news for students studying STEM fields at community colleges. STEM jobs in the Scranton-Wilkes Barre metropolitan area that require an associate’s degree or less pay an average of $47,135 compared to $29,268 for non-STEM jobs. At a time when some are questioning the value of a college education, this data provides evidence that an associate’s degree in the STEM fields comes with a high rate of return, especially considering the relatively inexpensive tuition paid.
Students in these fields who study at community colleges have other advantages. Community colleges typically have smaller student to faculty ratios than most four-year institutions. With an average student to faculty ratio of 14 to 1, STEM students at LCCC have the opportunity for hands-on learning in a small class atmosphere that allows for more interaction with their faculty. This personal attention helps better prepare students for real-life situations they will encounter in the field.
STEM students also benefit from collaborative partnerships that community colleges often participate in. For example, LCCC has entered into a partnership with the Regional Center for Nuclear Education & Training (RCNET) located on the campus of Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida. RCNET’s mission is to ensure the demand for skilled nuclear technicians is met. Their efforts include developing career pathways for college graduates into the nuclear energy industry. As part of this partnership, RCNET provides career assistance to LCCC students.
Yet another advantage for community college students choosing to enter a STEM field is the number of options open to them. The majority of LCCC’s programs are STEM programs, including those in Technology, Computer Information Systems, Automotive, Science and most Communication Arts fields, as well as all of the Health Science programs. These majors can prepare students for direct entry into the workforce, while also giving them the foundation they need should they decide to continue their education. Once employed, STEM workers can find their companies willing to provide financial assistance for their continued education which can lead to advancement in their field.
For those looking for a quicker path to the workforce, on the non-credit side, career training such as the Industrial Maintenance Technician, Nurse Aide, Phlebotomy, EKG and Basic Computer training can prepare students for their careers in as little as a few weeks to a few months.
LCCC even offers Summer Camp options for young children looking to participate in STEM program activities. Lego Robotics, Rock Star Academy and Broadcast Camp provide participants with a fun summer experience while also giving them introductory lessons in STEM careers.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations. Students entering the STEM fields can look forward to expanding career opportunities, healthy pay rates, and job advancement. The good news for residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania is that a quality STEM education is available and affordable through Luzerne County Community College.