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Can the Promise of a Fatter Paycheck Lure Minority Students into STEM Majors?

They can earn 50 percent more than minorities humanities majors.

It's well known that college graduates with science, technology, engineering or math degrees tend to earn higher salaries than their peers who were English majors. According to a study by the University of Southern California, minority students get an especially significant salary boost from majoring in a STEM subject, even if they don't end up working in a STEM field after graduation.

Researchers spent nine years following the career trajectories of over 1,000 Asian, Pacific Islander, black, and Latino students who were scholarship applicants for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Gates Millennium Scholars Program. They found that students from those racial and ethnic backgrounds who major in STEM earn 25 percent more after graduation than those who don't, and if they do work in a field related to their STEM degree, they earn at least 50 percent more.

The lead author of the study, associate professor of education Tatiana Melguizo, says colleges and universities "need to educate students that if they get a job in a STEM-related occupation, they have an even higher earning premium." Indeed, knowing that they could make more money after graduation if they major in STEM could be an effective lure for some minority students. In turn, that would help boost the number of STEM professionals and add much-needed diversity to STEM-related workplaces.

Of course, the hitch with the you-can-make-more-money sales pitch is two-fold: One, there's a reason for the adage "don't chase money." Minority students—just like everyone else—are better off studying what they're truly passionate about.

Two, minority students often attend underresourced K-12 schools with limited science budgets or poor access to and low enrollment in AP classes. If they haven't been well-prepared for a STEM major by the time they graduate from high school, they're probably not going to choose one. If they do, because of that inadequate preparation, they'll have a tough time dealing with notorious introductory weed-out classes. The message that they should consider majoring in STEM won't improve this reality.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user snre

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