Nearly 19 of 20 Oklahoma high-school graduates unprepared in STEM


Ray Carter | December 21, 2022

Nearly 19 of 20 Oklahoma high-school graduates unprepared in STEM

Ray Carter

The head of the state’s college system said the share of Oklahoma high-school graduates prepared to study in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields plunged this year and nearly 19 out of 20 graduates are now entering college unprepared to seek those degrees.

During a state Senate budget hearing on Tuesday, Allison D. Garrett, chancellor for the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, cited the results of ACT tests taken by May 2022 graduates and declared those results an “area of concern.”

“When we look at that population of students, we see that 10 percent test as college ready in all areas of the ACT, and 6 percent test as ready to study in STEM fields,” Garrett said.

In contrast, 22 percent of high-school graduates nationally met all four ACT college readiness benchmarks.

Garrett noted this year’s numbers are down from last year’s already poor results. In 2021, ACT results showed that 14 percent of Oklahoma high-school graduates were ready for college in all areas and just under 9 percent were prepared to study in STEM fields.

As a result, she said the state will need to spend more money in the college system to boost the number of STEM degrees conferred “because the students are coming to us not well prepared to study in STEM fields.”

The state’s college system is requesting an appropriation increase of $105 million in 2023, a sum that would bring total taxpayer funding at colleges to $985.9 million.

State Sen. Adam Pugh, an Edmond Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, noted significant inefficiency is involved when students enter college without having mastered high-school level content.

“We don’t want to pay a college professor to remediate a kid in basic math, because that’s not what they’re there for on that campus,” Pugh said.

Even as a smaller share of Oklahoma high-school graduates are prepared to pursue STEM degrees in college, the demand for STEM degrees is expected to increase. According to the Education Commission of the States, STEM jobs are expected to increase in Oklahoma by 8 percent by 2027.

While the number of people graduating from Oklahoma colleges with a degree in a STEM field has grown by 47 percent since the 2011-2012 school year, that growth has slowed dramatically and largely plateaued in the three most recent years for which data are available. In the 2018-2019 school year, Oklahoma colleges produced 4,633 graduates with STEM degrees, compared to 4,711 STEM graduates by the 2020-2021 school year, an increase of only 1.6 percent.

Garrett touted the decade-long trend in STEM degrees as a sign of higher education overcoming a significant challenge.

“We’ve increased our STEM degree production,” Garrett said, “despite the fact that a very low percentage of Oklahoma high-school grads are actually ready to study in STEM fields.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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