E Pluribus Unum, STEM Scores & the Growing Skills Gap
E pluribus unum—"Out of many, one." This phrase in the American vernacular alludes to the union between America's states and federal government, as symbolized by the shield on the eagle's breast on the U.S.A.'s Great Seal. As this phrase pertains to our educational system here in the United States one can argue this ideal of unanimity is never more appropriate.
As the singing duo Hall & Oates belted out it's all about "Adult Education". Really it's about child and adult education to be perfectly clear. STEM scores are a major concern for us. (STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.) It's unquestioned that the success of a country's educational system is directly linked to its continued growth and prosperity yet when you see statistics like these courtesy of the National Math & Science Initiative, you realize that changes need to occur.
Here are just a few examples from the NMSI about of this crisis:
To reinforce the point that an impending skills gap is coming, you need look no further than a new study of manufacturing employment by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University School of Communications, stating that U.S. factory jobs declined by nearly half since their peak in 1979, when there were 21 million manufacturing workers. All indicators point to this declining trend in manufacturing jobs continuing. Many will argue that the United States needs to better prepare itself for the knowledge economy of "brains versus brawn" from where future job growth will come which further highlights the importance of a more educated workforce.
The trouble as we know is that we're already seeing clear indications that our shortfall of highly educated talent is having an adverse and overtly visceral impact.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are over 3.5 million unfilled jobs right now where hiring companies can't find capable talent to fill these job openings. This is very alarming considering we have an unemployment rate hovering around 8% - or in real unemployment terms this rate is more like 12% if you count those people who have effectively given up looking for work. There's a lot of people looking for work that might never come given their current set of skills. Something has to change and quick.
A strategy for dealing with this talent shortage is absolutely critical because right now the United States finds itself ranked 16th in the world in the percentage of populations with college degrees in a time when, by 2018, nearly 2/3 of all American jobs will require a post-secondary degree. This is an ever-burgeoning skills gap if there ever was one.
Cooler heads always prevail. Before any rash, knee-jerk decisions are made, the first step in dealing with this skills gap is by first understanding what the data tells us. This is where Cognos Insight comes into play. Before we get to the application though I do make you aware of some statistics that stand out in the figures you'll find in this application which might help provide greater clarity; maybe even exposing some solutions but, of course, that will depend on how these data points are interpreted.
Again, these stats are pulled from the Cognos Insight Application that's referenced at the end of this post.
If you look at the percentage of men and women age 25 and over who attended '4 years or more of college' as surveyed in the 2011 in the U.S. Census which included over 201 million Americans, you find that men and women were both virtually neck-and-neck at about 31% of the total. Suffice it to say those numbers are very encouraging for the women of our country when in 1989 that percentage for women was only 18.10% whereas 24.46% of the 73M men over 25 years of age in 1989 had 4 years or more of college. My how quickly things can change and the data trend of this study shows that slow convergence whereby women have been closing that gap since 1989.
But let's not stop there because if we don't drill deeper into these numbers we fail to see a continuing trend that would be lost if we didn't continue our analysis.
Let's break this 31% figure for men and women over 25 years of age who have attended 4 years or more of college down to age ranges. This is where you uncover some compelling insights. We see that of those people aged 55 and older 31.31% of men fell into this category but only 23.68% of women did. That's surprising. Let's keep investigating. If we change the age range to 35-54 33% of women apply while 31.19% of men do. There's still no explanation for men and women in total in 2011 being equal in this category unless there's a large differential in the next age range, 25-34. Sure enough we've struck gold. Women aged 25-34 who have had 4 or more years of college jumps to a whopping 36.80% while men in this range sit at 29.31%. That's right. This is an incredible increase over the last 70 years when the percentage in 1940 for women was only 3.71. The "college" percentage gap between men and women in this age range has been growing wider ever since women first overtook men in this category in 1991. The gap has grown consistently in the last 15 years with trends pointing to this gap only widening.
Taking into account that this particular study covers educational attainment there's a possibility that the results can be easily misinterpreted on some level. For example, if a student attends college whereby they've graduated high school you have to be careful because, according to this study, that person will not be counted in the high school totals because they've now moved "up" an education level. With this in mind, if you're not careful, the raw results might be misconstrued such that this person who "fell" out of the high school group because they're now included in the college category could be incorrectly considered a high school dropout if you're only looking at the whole picture.
Let's look at another category.
That aside, if we look at the actual results for those who attended 4 years of high school taking into account that an increasingly higher percentage of women are attending college than men you see that there's even still an equal percentage of women who spent 4 years in high school as men.
From the start of the census in 1940 until the 1990's more women by a percentage of 7-8% more than men spent 4 years in high school until men began to slowly close that gap which now is about even between the genders. What accounted for these shifts? I know there were wars and recessions and a more rural life requiring the men to help with the farming chores for Americans than is the case today to account for this margin ?
Were there policy shifts that effected these outcomes or are these results just a product of the changing landscape of marriage here in America? Who knows. I am not here to offer any opinions or serve up any prognostications. As applies with all of the analysis we do - whether it's analytics for business or government - the real solutions aren't necessarily found in the data but more so how we begin to interpret the data. People interpret things differently and that's where I leave off.
What I've just explained in these last two sections was gleaned from a quick analysis of the Census results in Cognos Insight. I think it would be interesting to go a few more levels deeper to see ethnicity and geographical inputs for each intersection of data because this is going to give us even more insight into any meaningful trends that might exist.
Another level of detail that might be interesting to review would be how many college goers attended community college vs. public universities vs. private colleges? Also, what about household income and the role it played in educational attainment? What about parent's education level? The list goes on and on...and this is where we begin to see the power of data and analytics. The key is being able to use a solution that has the flexibility and performance to assist in this analytical process.
Look, I am by no means trying to suggest anything here by these census findings. I am merely presenting this information to you because I think this is an excellent example of how differently we can interpret data by the amount of analysis we do.
Please share your viewpoints on this information and, of course, download the application to assess and interpret the results for your yourself.
I'm really curious to see if anyone can add even more detail to the application drilling down even more levels to better assess trends in our educational attainment.
Also, please feel free to share your country's education progress in the same way I'm trying to introduce here either by creating your own Cognos Insight application or passing along a data set which I'd be happy to bring into a Cognos Insight application for you.
Lastly, I do encourage you all to download this Cognos Insight application to get the entire set of numbers which I took from the Pew Research Center available from the Census Bureau.
Thanks and look forward to hearing your thoughts.
P.S. If you don't have a free download of the Cognos Insight Personal Edition click here to get your free copy now. Then, you'll be able to open this application, which you can access by clicking here.
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