It Looks Like Silicon Valley is Doing Better Preparing People for STEM Careers

By John Melville

While in-migration remains a critical source of experienced STEM talent for Silicon Valley, the attainment of STEM degrees locally is also growing in importance.  Preparing people locally for Silicon Valley STEM jobs is not only important for the regional innovation economy, it opens the door for local residents to participate in technical careers with good and growing wages.  And, it attracts talented students outside the region, who may become part of our STEM workforce in the future.

So, how are we doing preparing people locally to join Silicon Valley’s innovation economy?

Based on provisional data that has just become available from the National Center on Educational Statistics, it appears that our region is doing much better than we did just a few years ago.  Moreover, during the 2015-2016 period, our growth rate for local STEM degrees awarded was the highest among the comparison regions.

As recently as the 2011-2012 period, 6,283 STEM degrees (bachelors, masters, and doctorates) were awarded by Silicon Valley institutions.  By the 2015-2016 period, this number had jumped to 8,265—an increase of almost 32% over four years.  And, the rate of growth has accelerated considerably—from an annual increase of 4.6% in 2013-2014 to 12% in 2014-STEM Table - 9.282015 to 16% in 2015-2016.

This 16% growth figure, if confirmed by final data to be released at the end of the year, will be the highest among the comparison regions of Austin, Boston, New York, Seattle, and Southern California (see chart below).  As recently as 2013-2014, our growth rate was the lowest among these comparison regions.

Big regions with many higher education institutions like New York and Southern California are naturally large producers of STEM degrees—with both awarding more than 28,000 of these credentials in 2015-2016.  Boston is next at 14,491, with Silicon Valley at 8,265 ahead of both Seattle (5,658) and Austin (5,628).

While Austin produces the fewest number of STEM degrees among the comparison regions, on a per capita basis, it trails only Boston, with Silicon Valley possessing the third highest per capita rate of STEM degree production among the comparison regions.

STEM Chart - 9.28There are many reasons for the Valley’s improving performance on STEM degree production.  Existing institutions have grown their STEM offerings and focused more on supporting students to degree completion.  Institutions based elsewhere have entered the region with new STEM degree programs.  With a booming innovation economy, there is growing interest by local youth and adults to pursue STEM degree as well as greater numbers of students coming to the Valley from other regions.  There are also growing efforts in the K-12 system and community colleges to put students on STEM education pathways that lead to bachelors’ degrees and beyond, including increased investment in growing homegrown talent from companies supporting local STEM programs (e.g., Genentech, Microsoft, and others).

Let us know what you think might be the reasons for this growth and what our region needs to do to sustain our success.  And, be sure to stay tuned for updated STEM data and other innovation indicator updates early next year.

John Melville is Co-CEO of Collaborative Economics.

On-Boarding and the College-Going Mindset: Promising Directions for Community Colleges

By Kathleen Rose

Last Spring, Gavilan College completed a comprehensive Educational Master Plan to focus on the development of an educational blueprint for the college for the next ten years, and to be the basis for a facilities plan to the year 2023. Our consultants looked at an assessment of the community and labor market needs for our 2700 square mile district, including population projections for Santa Clara and San Benito counties.  Central to the study was the improvement of on-boarding services for our feeder high schools and seeking ways to better prepare students to transfer to four year institutions with an emphasis on transfer pathways. Our stakeholder groups on campus held many discussions about what the current gaps were, what was missing with our current outreach services, and what we could do differently to remind high school students in our service area that Gavilan was an excellent choice to begin an education journey toward transfer or in career technical education. We needed to break the community out of the image that the community college was “just” an extension of high school, instead of a versatile open access entry point for learning.  In other words, we needed to demonstrate a new definition of a “college-going mindset” with our high school feeder schools.

It was very obvious to me as the new Superintendent/President that this new definition needed to begin with me, so last spring we decided to do a road show and visit the main feeder schools in our district.  We invited parents and students to come and learn more about Gavilan, meet our faculty and counselors, and participate in small round table discussions about applying for college and financial aid, and choosing a major. Students from Gavilan joined us to share their academic and athletic experiences, and I went from table to table and introduced myself to the parents and students who attended.  It was a very successful, grass roots effort that was combined with additional on-boarding activities throughout the year, including:

  • meetings with high school partners to review the recruitment cycle, changes in policies or processes, support services and special programs.
  • application, assessment, financial aid, and pre-orientation sessions conducted at all feeder and alternative schools in the district.
  • work with disability support staff at the high schools to connect their students with our AEC program.
  • conduct college tours, host bus trips to campus, and hold the annual Transfer Day and Career Day on Campus.
  • host “Super Saturday”, an accelerated matriculation event for parents and students who have not enrolled in late spring after other colleges have already admitted their students.
  • follow up with students who have not fully completed enrollment steps of their financial aid documents to connect students to additional services.

California Community Colleges have made significant advancements in the past five years in the area of student success, transfer and career technical education.  Yet more remains to be done to accelerate the pace of improvement and attract high school students to our campuses. When we take the time to design and decide the focus of initiatives and outreach efforts with the student in mind, students benefit from a seamless transition from one educational system to another with greater support to achieve their educational goals.


Dr. Kathleen Rose is President of Gavilan College in Gilroy, CA.

Why Kids Need Early STEM and Early Math in Particular

By Ted Lempert

Research shows that children’s early knowledge of math strongly predicts their later success in math, even into high school, and that persistent problems with math is the best predictor of failing to graduate from high school or enter college. More surprising is that early math also predicts later reading achievement, even better than early reading skills. In fact, doing more math in preschool increases oral language abilities when measured during the following school year. Given the importance of math to academic success, it’s clear that all children need a robust knowledge of math in their earliest years.

Unfortunately, one needs only to look at the data to see that we’re not doing enough to help our kids succeed in math. In 2015, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that only 29 percent of California’s 4th graders performed at or above proficient in math, compared to 39 percent nationally. Moreover, our students made virtually no improvement between 2013 and 2015. Alarmingly, we seem to be headed in the wrong direction. When we look at California’s 8th graders, according to NAEP, only 27 percent performed at or above proficient in math, compared to 32 percent nationally. The disparities are even greater for kids of color. The gap in math proficiency between Caucasian and African-American 4th graders was 23 points and grew to 31 points by the 8th grade.

The 2017 Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project report reaffirms the NAEP data, as well as the research documenting the importance of math. As the report states, 8th grade math proficiency is an important predictor for college preparedness and professional opportunities. Yet, even in the Silicon Valley, only 53 percent of 8th graders met or exceeded the state standards for math proficiency in 2016. While this is better than the state as a whole, when one looks at the performance of African-American and Latino 8th graders in the Silicon Valley, only 24 percent and 25 percent, respectively, met or exceeded the state standards for math proficiency.

What can we do about this?

We need to raise the profile and understanding among decision makers of the importance of early math, and early STEM education more broadly, through advocacy and outreach. We need to make the case that investing in early math and early STEM education pays off in terms later math achievement and academic success.

Children Now has posited that one of the central goals of any national or state education policy agenda must be to provide more students, especially those from underrepresented or disadvantaged groups, access to high-quality STEM education, and math in particular, as early in their studies as possible. More specifically, we should promote early learning and development within the local planning and budgeting dialogues required by the Local Control Funding Formula and Local Control Accountability Plans. We need to provide more resources for teacher training and professional development so our teachers are well prepared in both content and pedagogy to provide high-quality math and STEM instruction in their classrooms. And, we need to promote improved pathways for parents’ and families’ involvement and engagement in their children’s early education.


Ted Lempert is the President of Children Now, a nonpartisan umbrella research, policy development, and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting children’s health, education and well-being in California. Children Now also leads The Children’s Movement of California, a grassroots network of more than 2,000 business, education, parent, civil rights, faith, and community-based organizations working together to make children a top priority in public policy. Learn more at