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5 Ways Companies Can Invest in STEM Education

A recent report encourages corporate and philanthropic organizations to invest in high school and college STEM programs, and proposes a framework to help define and measure those investments' impact.

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In a recent report, STEMconnector, a company that runs a STEM network, encouraged its corporate and philanthropic clients to invest in high school and college programs to ensure a steady pipeline of STEM-ready workers. It outlined various ways to invest in STEM education, and also proposed a framework to help define and measure such programs' impact.

Forms these investments might take include:

  • Financial capital, such as sponsoring STEM spaces, equipment or scholarships;
  • Human capital, including promoting employee volunteerism;
  • Programming, such as funding competitions or making internships and apprenticeships available;
  • Policy advocacy, at local, state and national levels, such as pushing for computer science programs in school; and
  • Campaigns and marketing, to "generate a broader interest in STEM."

In particular, if companies are seeking "short-term talent acquisition and development success," wrote report author Erin White, head of product development and research for the organization, "they need to invest in postsecondary areas." If it's long-term results they're seeking, then K-12 should be their focus, she noted.

The thinking is this: Unless a company has jobs for recent high school graduates or offers apprenticeship programs for those students (both of which would address short-term STEM talent outcomes), it needs to think longer term and look at high school and earlier grades as a "stepping stone" to college education. For example, a company might choose "to introduce middle schoolers to role models in STEM who come from similar racial or ethnic backgrounds."

During both high school and college years, the emphasis should be on "enhancing skills, interest and confidence of potential future talent," and helping to provide "STEM-rich learning environments, mentors and other opportunities."

There are plenty of reasons why corporations would want to engage in these activities, White wrote — particularly for "positive corporate brand and strategic positioning benefits," including community goodwill, differentiation from the competition and generating affinity among consumers.

The impacts of companies' investments can be measured in terms of outputs and outcomes. The former covers what can be counted, such as dollars and employee hours invested, number of students that participated and their demographics. The latter encompasses a measurement of change, whether in individuals (such as their level of awareness, interest and knowledge), systems (such as fidelity to best practices) or "forces" (aspects that are beyond the direct control of companies or schools, such as policy or the macroeconomy).

Success overall, White proposed, could be measured by increased diversity in talent, the fostering of a more inclusive STEM ecosystem and improvement in collaboration across sectors and organizations.

"What we measure in STEM talent matters," concluded the report. "It matters to corporations who have the opportunity to innovate products and services and contribute to the economic engine of society if they can tap into a diverse, skilled STEM workforce. It matters to educators of all levels who seek to contribute to the future success of their students. It matters most of all to the individual students, jobseekers and employees who seek out the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from the exponential economic and social value created by STEM.

The full report, "Input to Impact: A Framework for Measuring Success Across the STEM Ecosystem," is available with registration on the STEMconnector website. An executive summary is openly available.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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