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Will Florida’s Push For High-Tech Degrees Pay Off?

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Curtis Nyarko is putting in a lot of late nights followed by early mornings at the lab – hoping to snare a high wage job in a high-tech field.

Nyarko is a junior at Florida State University majoring in biology. He wants to stay in Florida and pursue a career in medicine.

Nyarko says his STEM degree — science, technology, engineering and math — will be worth it.

“This degree is not an easy degree at all. But at the end of it all when you have your career – and it’s a good career – it is worth it,” Nyarko said. “You know, nothing great comes without great sacrifice.”

Jacqueline Arbelez also hopes to attend medical school in-state. She’s studying animal biology at the University of South Florida.

“I’ve heard that having a major in the STEM field guarantees you a spot in the industries after you graduate. You’ll have a stable job. That’s what I look forward to,” Arbelez said. “I can enjoy my major as well as look forward to finding something stable after I graduate, even if I don’t get into medical school.”

In January, Florida had more than 56,000 job openings in STEM fields. That’s up 15 percent from a year ago.

Gov. Rick Scott says the state needs more workers trained in STEM majors.

The governor says jobs in those fields pay better than the average salary and could boost Florida’s economy.

Maybe that’s why two-thirds of the new degree programs USF created this year are in STEM-related fields.

Dr. Paul Dosal, USF’s Vice Provost for Student Success, says higher education has to keep up with the needs of the market.

“So we have been responding already and trying to steer students into those fields and provide them the training they need,” Dosal said. “They’re coming in and they know STEM degrees are in high demand and STEM fields also pay very well.”

Others see a downside to STEM programs:

“We’re making it out like the education is something that is going to boost Florida’s economy,” says Florida State University Economist Randall Holcombe.
He says the key to graduates getting high paying jobs has more to do with the economy than what students major in.

“People can get those STEM majors and a lot of them are going to go out-of-state,” Holcombe said. “On the other hand, if we create the STEM jobs in Florida, it’ll attract people from out-of-state.”

As an economist, Holcombe thinks the state should do a study looking at the number of students majoring in STEM fields, what jobs they get right out of college, and whether they even plan to stay in Florida.

Regardless of the statistics, student Curtis Nyarko is banking on a high paying medical career near his family in Miami.

“People are always getting sick. Hospitals are always in need of new doctors, new nurses, new physical therapists, a lot of things,” Nyarko said. “So I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to get a job.”

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