Rochester Business Journal: STEM Incentive Program a Good Thing, but Should be Expanded to Include Private Colleges

Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, president, Keuka College

Commentary appears in Rochester Business Journal:

STEM Incentive Program a Good Thing, but Should be Expanded to Include Private Colleges

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to fund the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Incentive Program for a third year, while commendable, needs some fine tuning.

The STEM Incentive Program provides full-time tuition scholarships to the top 10 percent of students in each New York State high school provided they pursue a STEM degree in a State University of New York (SUNY) or City University of New York (CUNY) degree program, agree to live in New York State upon graduating, and work in a STEM field for five years after graduation.

This program is certainly worthy of funding because STEM fields are critically important to the future of the New York State and national economy, and there is a growing need for STEM graduates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of technology related jobs has grown 22.2 percent over the past 10 years and is expected to continue growing at a similar rate through 2020. New York State is projected to have nearly 500,000 STEM jobs by 2018, the third highest in the country.

 But here’s the problem: we are not producing enough computer science, engineering, and information systems technology graduates in our state or country to meet the demand. For example, there are 144,500 new jobs for people with computer-related degrees each year but only 57,000 new IT and computer science bachelor’s or master’s degree graduates to fill them. That leaves 82,500 unfilled technology jobs each year.

New York State is tackling this problem head-on with the STEM Incentive Program, but it needs to go further. The program is targeted toward SUNY and CUNY students, which means we are excluding the talented students who plan to pursue STEM degrees at our independent colleges and universities. The implications of this are troubling. It is wrong to deny students STEM Incentive Program benefits on the basis of their college choice and in doing so we risk outsourcing STEM jobs as our graduates take their talents to another state.

Private colleges bring plenty to the STEM education table. In 2013-14, private, not-for-profit colleges and universities awarded 56 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 72 percent of graduate degrees earned in STEM fields in New York State. What’s more, the STEM Incentive Program is undersubscribed. Therefore, eligible students who choose to attend independent sector colleges and universities could receive a scholarship equal in value to SUNY tuition at no additional cost to the state.

It is imperative that we provide our best and brightest high school students the opportunity to use their scholarship award at the New York State college or university that best fits their needs—public or private, large or small, close to home or a distance away—which will align the STEM Incentive Program with other state scholarship programs.