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.