The production of highly skilled scientists and engineers has its foundation in student performance during early education at the primary and secondary levels. Long-term trends in these areas show that students’ mathematics performance in the United States has been slowly improving over the past three decades.
Science and engineering education provides the advanced skills required for a competitive space workforce. It also cultivates the expertise needed for research and innovation. Understanding trends in the production of highly skilled scientists and engineers can provide an indication of long-term prospects for the space workforce.
In the United States, the number of STEM graduates has been growing at all degree attainment levels. Bachelor’s degrees grew ##% from 2000 to 2010, while master’s and doctoral degrees each grew about ##% over this time period. Data is available on STEM degree attainment in the United States going back to 1966, three years before the Apollo 11 flight that landed on the Moon.
In addition to participating in TIMSS, the United States also carries out the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to assess elementary and secondary students in the United States on subjects including mathematics and science. In October 2013, NCES released the NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study, allowing comparison of U.S. states against international standards.
The TIMSS study also assesses mathematics and science knowledge and skills. Unlike PISA, which focuses on broader mathematical and scientific literacy of students nearing the end of compulsory education, TIMSS is designed to align broadly with the mathematics and science curricula in participating countries at the fourth and eighth grade (approximately 9- and 13-year-old) levels.
Trends in international primary and secondary STEM education can be compared across countries using two widely respected international exams. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) every three years, focuses on the capabilities of 15-year-old students in mathematics and science literacy.
Highly skilled individuals are needed to maintain the global space workforce. In most cases, these individuals will need to obtain a university degree, often in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field. The number of graduates in these fields provides an indication of whether the supply of graduates will be adequate to meet industry needs.
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In addition to adeptly managing the existing workforce, the health of the industry relies on a steady supply of highly educated individuals, particularly those earning university degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.