Reasons for Hispanics to pursue a STEM Degree

The previous blog post discussed why Hispanics should pursue an academic degree. This blog post delves further into which academic degrees. Data shows science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees are the most beneficial for Hispanics to pursue for the following reasons:
  • STEM degrees pay more than non-STEM degrees
  • Help to close the income inequality gap
  • Career flexibility
  • Job stability
  • Better benefits
  • Strong industry growth

Hispanics suffer from Income Inequality

Unfortunately, in today’s ultra-competitive environment, obtaining a bachelor’s degree will only allow Hispanics to reach lower class income, which is around US$45,000. As shown in the graph below, a graduate degree is becoming increasingly necessary for Hispanics to break out of the lower class. 

Despite having the same level of education, Whites and Asians consistently earn more than Hispanics while Blacks regularly earn less. 

It is important to note that when Asians obtain a bachelor’s degree or higher their income significantly outpaces that of Whites. This is partly because a larger number of Asians have bachelor’s degrees or higher compared to other groups. For example, in the national laboratory where I am carrying out my doctoral research, most scientists (i.e., doctoral holders) are of Asian descent.

Few Hispanics participate in civic (i.e. voting) and political engagement due to low educational attainment and low English proficiency, so income inequality, along with other issues, continues to go unresolved.

STEM education

Pursuing a STEM Degree can help to close the Income Inequality Gap

As shown in the graph below, pursuing a STEM degree provides a way for Hispanics to earn significantly more than non-STEM occupations. 

Historically, the United States has struggled to fill STEM positions due to a lack of manpower. Whites and Asians make up most STEM positions while Hispanics, along with other minorities, are underrepresented. My experience in industry validates this statement.

Increasing degree-holders among Hispanics will be the first step in helping to bridge the income inequality gap. We also need to focus on influencing government policies by becoming strong advocates and highlighting the challenges (i.e., lack of jobs, underfunded schools, etc.) that our communities face to our political leaders. The best way to do this is by contacting your local representative and expressing your concerns.

STEM Education Hispanics

STEM occupations include those in healthcare, management, computer, math, architecture, engineering, life, physical, and social sciences, and education.

Non-STEM occupations include those in business, finance, legal, community and social services, protective services, food preparation, and serving, cleaning and maintenance, personal care and service, office and administrative, farming, fishing, forestry, construction, installation, maintenance, and repair, production, and transportation.

A STEM Degree provides Career Flexibility

Pursuing a STEM degree means you have the flexibility to choose from a wide range of careers and can switch careers easily. This is because STEM skills are cross-marketable. Typical skills include:
  • Problem-solving
  • Science
  • Math and Science
  • Technical
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Leadership
  • Organizational
  • Collaboration
In my case, for example, I have transitioned into three different careers since I graduated in 2012. I started in manufacturing as a Quality Engineer, followed by consulting for the oil and gas industry, and now I am in research and development as a doctoral student.
Some of the many careers STEM students can pursue include data science, accounting, environmental science, research, pharmaceuticals, consulting, etc. They can also go on to medical school, dental school, nursing, pharmacy, or veterinary school. In fact, some of my former engineering classmates have gone on to be dentists, medical doctors, or vets. 

A STEM Degree provides Job Stability

Our society is becoming more technologically driven, which results in more STEM jobs being created. However, there are few students that can fill these positions. As a result, there is limited competition for jobs, resulting in STEM professionals being employed almost immediately compared to non-STEM professionals. 

As a Hispanic, some of us have an added skill that contributes to our job stability; being bilingual. Being bilingual and having a STEM degree helped me get my first full-time job more quickly than my non-Hispanic classmates.

The stability of STEM jobs was evident during the pandemic. As shown in the graph below, those in STEM had significantly lower unemployment rates than those in non-STEM. This is partly because many STEM positions can transition to remote working environments. 

A STEM Degree leads to better Job Benefits

Some STEM positions offer the opportunity to travel, tuition reimbursement, more than two weeks of vacation (i.e., two weeks vacation is typical in the United States), bonus, on-site daycare, healthcare insurance, life insurance, retirement plan (i.e., 401k), and the option to telecommute. Tuition reimbursement is when your employer pays for most or all of your tuition while you are still working for them. This benefit is particularly useful if you plan on pursuing a graduate degree part-time. Other companies, like Google, offer additional benefits like paid maternity leave, bringing your pet to work, etc. 
Government jobs offer pension plans in addition to a 401k retirement plan. A very limited number of private companies like Corning Inc., ExxonMobil, and private hospitals offer pension plans and 401k plans to their employees because of their high cost. Therefore,  private companies that do have a pension plan are starting to phase them out.
Personally, I prefer jobs that offer pension plans to their employees because these are funded entirely by the employer and last for as long as the employee and their spouse live. 401k plans, on the other hand, are based on contributions by the employee and their employer. The final amount given to the employee upon retirement is dependent on how much has been contributed. This means a 401k plan can be depleted if poor financial decisions are made during retirement or not enough money has been contributed while the employee was working.
Getting a job with a pension is competitive but definitely worthwhile in the long run. The unfortunate news is they are becoming harder and harder to find.

STEM Careers have Strong Industry Growth

STEM occupations are forecast to grow 76% higher than non-STEM job growth nationwide. The COVID-19 pandemic has further increased the need for STEM professionals because STEM topics like public health, scientific literacy, and medical research were thrusted into the spotlight. For this reason, STEM jobs will continue to grow at accelerated rates.

What's Next?

The next blog post will discuss why Hispanics are the best group to fill much-needed STEM positions. 

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Stephanie Taboada

The author of this post has a Chemical Engineering Ph.D. and is an Engineering Professor with industry experience. As a Latina and a STEM professional, Stephanie is passionate about incentivizing Hispanics to pursue STEM. Read Stephanie's blog to understand the opportunities that exist in STEM for underrepresented groups. Follow her on social media to learn when the next blog post will be published.

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