Today, President Obama delivered his third annual “Back to School” speech from Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington, D.C.
The next generation of American leaders is hitting the books again, and the challenges they face today are greater than ever. The quality of education they receive is central to our Nation’s future, as well as to producing the workforce needed to maintain American leadership in the next century.
Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) today permeate the classroom, the home, the boardroom, manufacturing services, and even entertainment. The information revolution, spawned by striking scientific and technological advances, has triggered profound social and economic changes throughout the world, resulting in an intensely competitive global marketplace, with prime job opportunities increasingly available only to those with technical and critical thinking skills.
That’s one reason why the President’s American Jobs Act is so important. It promises to modernize at least 35,000 schools across the country by building new science labs and Internet-ready classrooms while preventing up to 280,000 teacher layoffs.
The degree to which our Nation prospers in the 21st century will depend upon our abilities to develop scientific and technical talent in our youth, to provide lifelong learning to a well-educated workforce able to embrace the rapid pace of technological change, and to raise the level of public scientific and technological literacy. Consider this fact: the unemployment rate for college graduates is 4.3 percent. That’s less than half of what it is for workers who only completed high school (9.6 percent) and a third of those who never finished high school (14.3 percent).
And those young Americans who pursue degrees in STEM fields will have an even bigger advantage. According to a recent Department of Commerce report, a college graduate in a STEM field earns 26 percent more than a college graduate in non-STEM fields, and the wage gap between men and women is smaller for those in STEM fields (14 percent vs. 21 percent in non-STEM fields).
Furthermore, the number of jobs in the STEM fields is growing rapidly -- by 2018 jobs in the STEM fields are projected to grow twice as fast as those in non-STEM fields. What this shows is that math and science teachers play an absolutely critical role in K-12 learning. That’s why President Obama launched an “Educate to Innovate” campaign to improve the participation and performance of America’s students in STEM subjects. This campaign includes efforts not only from the Federal government, but also from leading companies, foundations, non-profits, and science and engineering societies to work with young people across America to excel in science and math.
Last year the President held the first-ever White House Science Fair, where he met students like Amy Chyao, who taught herself chemistry during a summer break, and then applied what she had learned and discovered a breakthrough process that uses light to kill cancer cells. The President talked about Amy in his speech today.
And just this past Monday, Michelle Del Rio, a student at the University of Texas at El Paso, introduced First Lady Michelle Obama at an event in the East Room of the White House that highlighted new policy efforts by the National Science Foundation to support America’s researchers and their families. Michelle Del Rio spoke about the hardships she had to overcome to get to where she is today, as well as the challenges she will face going forward.
Michelle Del Rio worked at two part time jobs to pay her college tuition, and she successfully graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Sciences. She then turned her considerable talents to conducting research in a lab full time to earn her Master’s degree in public health. Her goal is to get her MD, so she can help underprivileged children where she grew up in southern Texas.
She’s kept at it because she knows that education pays off.
And that is the message the President spoke about today in his Back to School speech.