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Report: STEM Education Lacking in Rural Areas

Opportunities to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are lacking at rural schools in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, according to a new report.

The Pittsburgh-based Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development recently released "Work to Do: The Role of STEM Education in Improving the Tri-State Region's Workforce," which examined the attitudes toward STEM careers, and the opportunities to learn about them in the rural tri-state region. The study found that although there are opportunities for employment in STEM careers, there is a shortage of qualified workers, especially in advanced manufacturing and energy fields.

The authors of the report say that the workforce shortage may be due to several factors, including a shortage of students who are prepared for high-level STEM course work, teachers who are inexperienced with teaching STEM, and shrinking education budgets that have made STEM a lower priority.  Some rural districts said they lack access to extracurricular activities, like after-school programs and summer programs, which support STEM and can build interest and skills in students.

The report also found that few rural parents have heard of STEM, and only 22 percent of rural parents, compared to 29 percent of urban parents, think their school emphasizes STEM subjects.

Students' perceptions of STEM appear to undermine their chances for engaging in those subjects, the report found. About half of students surveyed said they believe that the advanced math or science classes often necessary for STEM careers are only for students who will attend a four-year college. Nationwide, rural students are less likely to attend college than their urban or suburban peers, and those who do are less likely to choose a four-year institution.

A federal report released earlier this year found that graduates of rural schools are less likely than their non-rural peers to have completed a high school science sequence of classes, including biology, chemistry, and physics. Some research shows that science teachers in rural areas are less likely than urban science teachers to have majored in science or have a graduate degree in science. Many rural schools also struggle to attract and retain science teachers, which may mean they are unable to offer certain science courses.

Educators surveyed by the report said that to strengthen STEM offerings in rural schools, businesses should help fund STEM-related programs and courses and offer internships and field trips for students.

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