Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Afterschool, STEM, & Jobs For the Future

Afterschool learning certainly benefits youth through rich learning opportunities--but few people outside of the afterschool field may realize that afterschool programs can be a boon for local economies and communities in several ways. Earlier this week, President Barack Obama recognized the importance of afterschool education by including support for afterschool in his American Jobs Act. Jodi Grant, Coalition Steering Committee Member and Executive Director of the Afterschool Alliance, wrote on the Afterschool Snack blog about why afterschool is deserving of this attention, and made a case for increasing support for afterschool.

Science, technology, engineering, and math represent an important component of afterschool learning. Investing in afterschool STEM means supporting economic growth in the United States both now and in the future. Here are some reasons why afterschool STEM is essential in supporting the current and future workforce:
  • Afterschool provides a safe and enriching childcare environment for families who work outside of the home. Afterschool programs provide childcare for parents, enabling them to work full-time jobs and support their families. According to a fact sheet from the Afterschool Alliance, "decreased worker productivity related to parental concerns about after school care costs businesses up to $300 billion per year." With a record number of American families living under the poverty rate, investing in childcare opportunities is more important than ever in getting Americans back to work. 
  • Afterschool and other out-of-school time programs provide jobs. Out-of-school time jobs are often seasonal and part-time, and represent rich on-the-job learning experiences for youth and students. Youth unemployment depends heavily on seasonal and part-time employment typical of afterschool direct provider positions, and unemployment during youth correlates to fewer opportunities as an adult. Investing in afterschool programs enables more students to participate in the program, necessitating hiring more afterschool providers and administrative staff.
  • Early STEM learning opportunities influence choosing STEM as a college major and career. A recent survey by Microsoft yielded quite a bit of interesting information about parent and student attitudes toward STEM. About 78% of college STEM majors said they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier; about 21% said they decided in middle school. Investment in quality STEM experiences at early ages could increase the numbers of students who ultimately choose to pursue STEM careers.
  • There is a pressing need for investment in the future STEM workforce. In a time when unemployment and poverty rates are increasing the US, STEM fields provide a light at the end of the tunnel. STEM jobs are projected to grow by 17% from 2008 to 2018, in contrast with non-STEM jobs, which are only expected to grow 9.8%. This view is reflected in the Microsoft survey on parent and student attitudes toward STEM, where 66% of college STEM majors reported choosing STEM for the job potential, and slightly over half of parents said STEM should be a priority "to produce next-generation innovators."
It's clear that different groups recognize the importance of both STEM and afterschool. However, in the Microsoft survey, only 24% of parents said they would be willing to spend extra money to help their children be successful in their math and science classes. Decreased funds from government and private sources have devastated afterschool programs, although the need for their presence within communities continues to rise. It's clear that support for afterschool will have to come from multiple sources--including President Obama's jobs plan, as well as from successful private-public STEM education partnerships highlighted in a recent Congressional hearing.

Are you looking for more ways to include STEM in your afterschool program? Find curricula, professional development opportunities, and more on our Resources page. If you're interested in helping to advocate for afterschool in your community--and across the country--check out the Afterschool Alliance's Policy and Action Center.

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