PhotoThe U.S. needs more scientists and technicians and will reward them handsomely. That's the bottom line of a new push in education to enroll students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – known collectively by the acronym STEM.

The STEM Education coalition is among the organizations pushing for more science-oriented education to make U.S. industry more competitive with the rest of the world. It also works to encourage more bright, gifted students, especially those from underrepresented or disadvantaged groups, to study in STEM fields.

Big payoff

A new study may make that job a bit easier. It finds degrees in science, technology, engineering and math associated with 25 to 50 percent higher earnings, with Latino college grads the highest earners. Minority college students who major in the STEM fields earn at least 25 percent more than their peers who study humanities or education.

Those who took jobs related to their STEM degrees earned at least 50 percent more than their classmates who majored in humanities or education fields. Why? Businesses that require employees with technical education and skill are having a hard time filling positions.

The study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, followed more than 1,000 Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino and black students over nine years.

While minority groups continue to be underrepresented in the STEM fields, the study's researchers believe this will change if students understand how much more money can be earned in those fields.

"The premiums for majoring in STEM fields are huge," said lead author Tatiana Melguizo, associate professor of education with the USC Rossier School of Education. "We need to educate students that if they get a job in a STEM-related occupation, they have an even higher earning premium. Otherwise, students aren't reaping the economic benefit of all the hard work they went through as undergrads."

The payoff was biggest for Latino grads. They reported the highest average earnings after college - $42,180 annually - relative to the other minority groups. Black students reported earning $35,900 and Asian Pacific Islanders earned $40,261.

Latinos the highest earners

Latinos majoring in STEM fields also reported the highest earnings among the groups studied: an average of $56,875 per year, higher than the reported average salaries of $39,365 for blacks and $47,530 for Asian Pacific Islanders.

"Among the high achieving minority students we studied, Latinos not only reported the highest annual earnings overall, but also reported the highest annual earnings among STEM majors," said study co-author Gregory Wolniak, a senior research scientist at the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. "Preliminary findings suggest this may partially be due to Latino students' ability to find jobs related to their major. These findings are encouraging signs that strengthening the pipeline of underrepresented students into STEM careers offers a viable solution to our nation's growing competitiveness problem in engineering and science fields."

According to the Princeton Review, the three most popular college majors are Business Administration, psychology. Biology, the highest ranking STEM major, comes in at fourth. The only other STEM major to crack the top 10 is computer science, which comes in at number 10.

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