Paul Jarley's Blog: Attracting More STEM Students

Paul Jarley’s Blog: Attracting More STEM Students

Talk on the street is that a plan is being considered to lower tuition rates for students in the STEM disciplines as a way of encouraging more people to enter into the fields most likely to help us diversify and invigorate the Florida economy.

I don’t think a lower price for in-state tuition is likely to help. Students don’t choose majors based on price and in the STEM disciplines the issue isn’t that young people can’t afford to go to school to pursue careers in STEM, but rather that they do not have the academic preparation to successfully pursue these majors. The key here is to improve student preparation in primary and secondary school. That will be a slow process that starts in middle school and takes at least six years until those students are ready to enter college.

If it will take that long to “make” STEM ready Florida college students, perhaps we can “buy” those that are ready now from other states. In other words, a more effective short-term strategy would be to cut out-of-state tuition to in-state levels as a way of attracting more students to the STEM disciplines at Florida schools. The ratio of out-of-state to in-state tuition is high in Florida, higher than most states. Lowering it is one way to attract these students to Florida.

To maximize the attraction, I would combine this lower price with opportunities to intern with some of our unique community partnerships to make the STEM disciplines come alive. For UCF this should include opportunities to learn at the Cape, the attractions, and the simulation and training industry, things we have that others don’t. I would also work to pair STEM students with business students in courses and co-curricular experiences that focus on the new business start-up process. STEM students shouldn’t just aspire to be employees, we want them to think entrepreneurially and be the source of scalable business ideas. Pairing STEM students with business students in specialized programs will help make this happen.

Implementing this strategy is likely to be especially successful at the graduate level. People who enter specialized professional graduate programs are more likely to complete them and enter STEM-related enterprises than freshmen who tend to change majors with considerable frequency. Masters students are also more likely to develop scalable business ideas and become employers, especially if they learn to work with MBA students.

In-state tuition for out-of-state STEM students, the opportunity to work with one of our unique community partners, and interact with business students interested in creating STEM-related starts-ups should be a powerful attractor, especially when combined with beaches and sunshine. Once they are here, they are likely to stay. Everybody wins, especially Florida’s economy.

Paul Jarley, Ph.D., is the dean of the UCF College of Business Administration. He blogs every week at http://www.bus.ucf.edu/dean. This post appeared on December 31, 2012. Follow him on Twitter @pauljarley.