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In College, Sports Trumps STEM

Feb. 1, 2018
If colleges are working toward preparing students for better jobs with more money, should they be investing so much more in sports than they do in STEM?

It has been argued that money is a form of speech. If this is true, U.S. colleges are talking a lot of sports, not education. An infographic from KDM Engineering shows that colleges are investing 1.8 times the amount of money into scholarships that have relatively no jobs. (For the full infographic, click here.)

A survey done by UCLA in 2012 reports that more college freshmen are attending school to get a better job, and make more money. If colleges are working toward preparing students for better jobs with more money, should they be investing so much more in sports than they do in STEM?

KDM’s graphic shows the annual scholarship awards to STEM ($1.6 billion) and sports ($2.9 billion) and compares this to jobs in the U.S. economy: STEM: 8.6 million and sports: 11,800. These numbers indicate that colleges invest $180 per potential STEM worker and $245,763 per potential pro athlete.

According to this data, the average sports career lasts three to five years, while in STEM it’s 40 to 45. This doesn’t mean every student athlete is getting a full ride, or looking for a job in sports. It does show what colleges use to get students in the door. If schools are offering more money to a sports team than a STEM team (Math, Baja, Formula 1, etc.) and if money is speech, colleges are not talking about educating students for better jobs to make more money.

While I’m pro-STEM, I feel I must play devil’s advocate. This data is from Congressional Research Service, National Center for Educational Statistics, and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). It doesn’t look like the infographic considers student athletes that are studying STEM. In addition, it doesn’t look like it considers students that receive STEM scholarships, but end up switching majors or careers after graduating. It also doesn’t address the exorbitant cost of college that makes scholarships common practice rather than an anomaly, and as engineers we should be looking at the root cause. Finally, getting a STEM scholarship means you’re essentially getting money go to class. Student athletes are getting a scholarship to attend class, and work a lot more hours in their respective sports.

All this being said, when I was getting out of high school, I was offered a scholarship to play football. It might have only been enough to cover my books, but it was the only support I saw in furthering my education. If companies are worried about finding top talent in STEM as the skills gap widens, perhaps they need to use their “speech,” and get colleges to put their money where the better jobs are.

(Full disclosure: I wasn’t good at football or STEM when I was in high school. I think they might have mailed me the scholarship by mistake.)

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