Afterschool STEM Programs Help Close America's Skills Gap

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“STEM Ready America” event in Washington, D.C., highlights how afterschool programs can provide gains in critical workforce skills and interest in science careers

Students participating in afterschool programs that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) reported increased interest in science careers and gains in important 21st century skills such as critical thinking and perseverance—skills in high demand in today’s workforce.

The key findings emerge from the Afterschool & STEM System Building Evaluation 2016, an ambitious study supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and STEM Next, which will be released this month. The study looked at the impact of more than 160 afterschool programs, surveying nearly 1,600 youth in grades 4-12 across 11 states. It is the latest in a growing body of evidence demonstrating that afterschool programs help students succeed in school, work, and life. Highlights of the findings include that more than 70 percent of students across all states reported positive gains in areas of science interest, science identity, science career interest and career knowledge, and 21st century skills, including perseverance and critical thinking. Key findings include:

  •     80 percent of students reported a positive gain in their science career knowledge
  •     78 percent experienced a positive change in their self-reported interest in science
  •     72 percent reported an increase in their perseverance and critical thinking skills
  •     73 percent reported an increase in “STEM identity”—a personal belief that he/she can do well and succeed at science

Findings from the new study are included in STEM Ready America: Inspiring and Preparing Students for Success with Afterschool and Summer Learning, a compendium of articles from 40 leading experts featured on a new website (http://www.stemreadyamerica.org). The site provides success stories, research, and articles on STEM learning from policymakers, educators, and business, foundation, and youth development leaders.

“Afterschool programs have significant potential to help young people across America prepare for success in school today and jobs tomorrow,” said Ron Ottinger, director of STEM Next and former executive director of the Noyce Foundation, which founded the program. “There’s a powerful message here for employers nationwide concerned about the pipeline of qualified job candidates. Afterschool STEM programs are inspiring and equipping young people to pursue careers they never imagined before —and helping them gain skills needed for virtually every job in the future.”

According to labor market data, STEM jobs are among the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs in America. Millions of STEM jobs are projected to go unfilled due to the gap between the skills employers need and the skills workers have. It’s not only jobs directly in STEM occupations: by some estimates, nearly 80 percent of all new jobs created nationwide over the next decade will require STEM skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, perseverance, and experimentation.

“Afterschool works—for our kids, families, communities, and economy,” said Gwynn Hughes, senior program officer for the Mott Foundation. “Quality STEM afterschool and summer programs are extremely cost-effective and can help position our country for future prosperity. We need to scale up these programs to ensure they’re available for every child who’s waiting to enroll.”

More than 10 million young people participate in afterschool programs, but the demand is high. For every child in an afterschool program, there are two waiting to get in.

The new research findings and the new articles featured in STEM Ready America will be highlighted at an event on March 1, 2017, at the National Press Club in Washington. Leading experts from across the country will discuss the role of high-quality afterschool programs in helping students succeed, highlight promising programs, and focus on the urgent need to expand access for more students nationwide.

Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer at U.S. News & World Report, will moderate the plenary panel. The keynote presentation will be delivered by Jim Gates, Jr., Ph.D, noted physicist and advocate for STEM learning, and co-author of the 2010 report to the President, “Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education for America’s Future.” Leaders in STEM and afterschool programs, including the largest national youth-serving organizations, will attend.

The Afterschool & STEM System Building Evaluation 2016 was conducted by The PEAR Institute: Partnerships in Education and Resilience at Harvard University and the Institute for Measurement, Methodology, Analysis & Policy at Texas Tech University. Researchers analyzed retrospective self-reports completed by students and surveys completed by program instructors to assess the impact of state system-building strategies and support on quality, quantity, and youth outcomes in STEM-focused afterschool programs. The evaluation was conducted in 11 states and involved nearly 1,600 students in grades 4-12 and 160 afterschool programs. More than half of the programs evaluated are funded by the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.

About The Mott Foundation
The Mott Foundation, established in 1926 in Flint, Michigan, by an automotive pioneer, is a private philanthropy committed to supporting projects that promote a just, equitable and sustainable society. It supports nonprofit programs throughout the United States and, on a limited geographic basis, internationally. Grantmaking is focused in four programs: Civil Society, Education, Environment and Flint Area. In addition to Flint, offices are located in metropolitan Detroit, Johannesburg and London. With year-end assets of approximately $2.7 billion in 2016, the Foundation made 420 grants totaling more than $120 million. For more information, visit http://www.mott.org.

About STEM Next
STEM Next is a national field building leader in increasing opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning for youth across communities both in and out of school. STEM
STEM Next was funded by the Noyce Foundation, which for a quarter-century was dedicated to helping young people become curious, thoughtful, and engaged learners. The mission of STEM Next is to make STEM subjects fun and alive for all youth to solve the nation’s and world’s greatest challenges, with an emphasis on low-income youth and girls in underserved communities. For more information, visit http://www.stemnext.org.

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Devin Boyle