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As STEM Graduate Rates Decline, Funding and Improving STEM Education Is More Crucial Than Ever

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With a new school year just around the corner, the future for students considering a career in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is full of bright possibilities. STEM jobs are projected to grow by 17 percent by 2018, and the Commerce Department reports that STEM workers now command 26 percent higher wages than their non-STEM counterparts.

While STEM employers are eager to hire, the number of students pursuing STEM-related majors continues to shrink, especially among women and minorities. Just 16 percent of American high school seniors are both proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career, and only 25 percent of STEM graduates are women. Programs that encourage and help fund secondary education are critical to help students take advantage of the wide array of opportunities in STEM fields.

One of the largest such programs in the country, the Buick Achievers Scholarship Program, supported by the General Motors Foundation, places a strong focus on recognizing women, minorities and students known for excelling in the classroom and giving back to their communities. With the addition of this year's scholarships, Buick Achievers has awarded nearly $16.5 million to approximately 3,300 students since the program's inception in 2011.

As the baby boomer generation prepares to enter retirement, the gap between the number of STEM workers needed and students with expertise in related fields continues to widen. While knowledge of mathematics and science is key for the United States to remain a nation of global innovators and leaders, students in the U.S. rank 25th and 17th in those subjects, respectively, among industrialized nations.

Just as developing new STEM talent is vital to our nation's future, scholarship funding is crucial to providing our best and brightest young minds opportunities to succeed. Scholarships are now the top source of funding for college costs, and are vital to many families as tuition rates continue to climb.

The 2013 Buick Achievers Scholarship recipients were announced today, and represent a diverse array of backgrounds and goals for the future.

Among the 1,100 students being recognized this year, more than 521 recipients are the first in their families to pursue a secondary education, 45 have served in the United States Armed Forces, and 48 come from military families. Additionally, 819 are pursuing STEM-related majors, with degree programs including mechanical engineering topping the list.

Fostering a community of students interested in and excited about STEM fields is something that must start early.

Solving our nation's STEM crisis can't be done in a single school year or by a single entity. It will take a long-term commitment on behalf of educators, volunteers, employers and more. But as we work together to improve STEM education, the possibilities for our country's students- - and our future -- look brighter than ever.