STEM programs cost more, but are worth investment for N.J.

Governor Chris Christie attends the ribbon cutting ceremony at NJIT's new Life Sciences and Engineering Center in Newark.

In today’s world, technology is both indispensable and inescapable. Just about every facet of our society is changing rapidly due to technological innovation. Whether in health care or communication or finance or transportation or any other market sector, all major business enterprises are, at their core, technology companies. Today, every company is a technology one. Technological innovation is what fuels efficiency and product development in today’s economy, and this reality creates incredible demand for employees in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields. New Jersey cannot meet that demand without supporting the colleges and universities that are preparing the workforce our state requires. Therefore, New Jersey should begin considering the number of degrees awarded to students in the strictly defined STEM disciplines as part of the calculus for both the annual base appropriation to colleges and universities and the Outcomes Based Allocation funding formula for distributing new aid.

New Jersey Institute of Technology, where I serve as president, is both a catalyst for economic growth ($2.8 billion annual impact on New Jersey) and a launching pad for its students, because we prepare them to excel in fields that are in high demand. As New Jersey’s public polytechnic university, NJIT educates approximately one-third of our state’s engineers and is a Top 20 national university in the production of African American and Hispanic engineers. NJIT also is No. 1 in the entire nation, according to Forbes, for the upward economic mobility of students from low-income families, and we are in the top 2% nationally for alumni midcareer earnings. Our graduates, who are an exceptionally diverse group that includes many first-generation college students, assume high-paying positions that have a multiplier effect on job creation and factor heavily into our state’s economic prosperity and tax base.

Unfortunately, the successes NJIT has made possible for its students and for the state of New Jersey will not continue if sufficient support and funding are not provided by the state. NJIT and other institutions that train New Jersey’s STEM workforce are particularly hard-pressed because of the additional costs associated with providing STEM education. Studies by the Center for STEM Education and Innovation as well as the National Bureau of Economic Research have documented the higher costs associated with providing STEM programs, particularly those in the disciplines of engineering, architecture, computing, and the physical and biological sciences. For example, the NBER study found that, in comparison to degree programs such as English, history, psychology and economics, the costs of offering engineering programs are more than 100% greater. The Center for STEM Education and Innovation determined that engineering programs are more than 60% more costly to deliver than the average degree program.

These higher costs are driven by multiple factors. The salaries of STEM faculty members are 33% higher than the overall average faculty salary at doctoral universities. This is due to the limited supply and highly competitive recruitment process for faculty in STEM fields, as well as the marketplace for such professionals outside of academia. Because of the technical nature of their teaching disciplines and their lines of research, newly hired faculty also require startup   funds for equipment and supplies. Additionally, academic facilities costs are greater, as STEM disciplines require high-tech laboratories, lab techs, costly equipment and supplies that are not required for most disciplines. This also applies to information technology infrastructure, which must provide cloud-based and hybrid high-performance computing platforms.

If New Jersey is to succeed in developing the workforce necessary to support a knowledge, innovation and technology economy, we must provide resources that support students in the STEM disciplines and the colleges and universities educating those students. I have been encouraged by the initial steps taken by Gov. Phil Murphy, former Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis, and our state’s legislative leaders to partner with New Jersey’s public colleges and universities for the benefit of our students and our state. If, however, we do not recognize the importance of investing in the STEM workforce that will be the foundation of our future economic strength, we risk long-term negative consequences and will deprive students from low-income and underrepresented groups of opportunities to pursue careers in high-income and high-demand fields.

Joel S. Bloom is president of New Jersey Institute of Technology.