College of Liberal Arts

Sociology, Economics Researchers Receive Grant to Study How STEM Education Contributes to Workforce Success

Wed, Oct 16, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas — University of Texas at Austin sociologist Chandra Muller and economist Sandra Black have received a $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate how science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education contributes to career success.

The goal of the study, titled “STEM Education Effects on a Diverse Workforce's Development over the Life Cycle,” is to identify which skills learned in high school and college help people to adapt, learn and succeed in the rapidly changing workforce.

“We are interested in knowing how schools helped people continue to learn in their adult lives,” says Muller, professor in the Department of Sociology and the Population Research Center. “This will tell us what is important to teach in our schools today so that young people can adapt to the societal transformations in the future.”

The study will use data from “High School and Beyond,” a nationally representative survey funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The researchers will examine the educational development of young people beginning with high school sophomores in 1980, and following them over time.

“The members of the ‘High School and Beyond’ study are especially interesting because most of them had completed their education before the technological transformation of our society,” Muller says. “Instead of learning the skills demanded in the new occupations as part of their schooling, they had to learn the skills in another way.”

As part of the study, the researchers will evaluate whether the skills taught in high school and college are equally useful for all races and genders. They will also examine how STEM training and workforce success differs for people with disabilities.

“Our nation requires that all workers now have STEM skills and a public with scientific literacy,” Muller says. “This project will help to identify the educational priorities to develop these skills and how U.S. schools — both high schools and institutions of higher education — can best prepare students to adapt and succeed in a complex global economy.”

By combining their expertise in sociology and economics, Black says the study will provide valuable insights from multiple perspectives.

“Working together lets us combine the advantages of both fields, focusing on a broad spectrum of outcomes ranging from labor market and earnings outcomes to family and life satisfaction,” says Black, professor of economics and research affiliate in the Population Research Center. “We bring models from both economics and sociology together to try to form a more complete picture of how workers are adapting to the rapid technological changes we see going on in the world.”

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