Commentary: Community Colleges
The following LTE was published in The Virginian Pilot on May 12, 2021
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden’s Portsmouth visit underscores the value of community colleges and the importance of investing in them, particularly programs that train (and retrain) students for occupations in science, technology, engineering and math-related fields. Investments in STEM education will be critical to expanding middle-income careers and maintaining American competitiveness for decades to come.
STEM jobs are the primary driver of the American economy. Of the 195.8 million jobs we identified across 819 occupations, 64 million, or 33%, were high-skilled STEM professions, according to our recent analysis titled STEM and the American Workforce. In total, STEM supports two-thirds of U.S. jobs, 69% of GDP, $2.3 trillion in federal tax revenue, and $1.2 trillion in state and local taxes annually.
Interestingly, 6 in 10 U.S. STEM professionals do not hold a bachelor’s degree, which highlights the value of community college education in creating pathways to dependable, good-paying jobs in high-demand fields. Those licensed practical nurses, electricians, advanced manufacturing specialists, laboratory technicians, military communications systems managers and more are the backbone of the American STEM workforce.
As the national economy recovers from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and public policymakers devise ways to maintain America’s competitive edge in the global marketplace, investing in community colleges and emphasizing science and engineering will be a must. Our future success depends on it.
Rachel Kerestes is Executive Director of Science is US, a foundation-supported effort that brings together a diverse group of science, engineering, industry, higher education and labor organizations to advocate for science-based public policies.