07/16/2014 01:16 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2014

Now Is the Time to Equip the Next Generation of STEM Leaders and Innovators

As graduating students begin to enter a post-recession job market, many still struggle to find employment in their desired field. However, there is one group of graduates that has a higher success rate than most.

Students pursuing degrees in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are entering a job market in which the demand for educated workers far outpaces the supply. STEM occupations are projected to grow faster than all other fields, and the average starting salary for STEM graduates is more than 30 percent higher than for those earning other degrees.

While STEM employers search eagerly for qualified candidates, the pool of applicants continues to shrink. Just 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career, and only half of those who do pursue a college major in the STEM fields choose to work in a related career.

As the United States lags behind internationally in STEM education, it is imperative to the success of our country that we support the next generation of leaders and innovators. Programs that fund secondary education to prepare students studying STEM for the jobs of the future have never been more critical to reversing this trend.

One of the largest and most impactful programs in the country, the Buick Achievers Scholarship Program, supported by the General Motors Foundation, recognizes outstanding students who excel in the classroom and give back to the community. In four years since the program's inception, Buick Achievers has awarded more than $28 million in scholarships to 3,400 high school seniors and undergraduate students - most of whom are pursuing careers in STEM.

A new class of Buick Achievers Scholarship recipients was just announced, and they are blazing new territory in more ways than one.

Not only are they embarking on careers that will lead to innovative developments in American industries, but this new class of scholarship recipients is evolving the face of STEM. Half are the first in their family to attend college. More than half are female. And minorities make up the majority.

Making education more affordable and accessible for all students, regardless of background, is the first step in our goal to help change the trajectory of the lives of these students and their families.

During a recent speech to students at the University of Michigan, President Obama noted, "In this economy, there is no greater predictor of individual success than a good education."

As we work to equip students with the tools they need, we help pave the way for both their individual success, as well as the success of our country as a whole.