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What is a STEM Degree?

By University Staff

What is a STEM Degree?

The demand for innovative, educated professionals – specifically STEM graduates – is increasing. In fact, STEM education is cited among the most important economic drivers, and if America’s college graduates hope to keep pace in an increasingly competitive job market, they should consider STEM degree programs an investment in their long-term career futures. 

What Is a STEM Degree? 

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The term serves as an umbrella for a number of fields, including information technology, software development, computer network architecture, information security, and others. As technology reshapes the world, colleges and universities have responded by offering STEM or “STEM-adjacent” programs to students eager to become part of a growing trend, and the number of STEM degrees and certificates awarded in the U.S. has grown consistently every year since 2008, according to Statista.

A Growing STEM Degree List

There are dozens of STEM degree programs available to college hopefuls, and while the computer will always factor into STEM learning, you don’t have to be a math whiz or science genius to join the club. For those asking, “What is a STEM major?” the answer includes, among others:

  • Computer Science
  • Engineering
  • Health Science
  • Information Technology
  • Mathematics
  • Physics 

These are broad subjects, and your research into college degrees will show you how fields such as computer science or information technology, for example, can cover a number of programs and related careers. Here is a list of some STEM degrees that are gaining importance in today’s workforce:

  • Business Information Systems
  • Computer Software Technology
  • Cyber & Data Security Technology
  • Information Technology (IT)
  • Information Systems Management

In this blog, we will take a closer look at each one of these STEM degrees and some career opportunities that align with them.

The following five STEM degrees are growing in popularity:

1. Business Information Systems

Not all STEM degree programs are technology-intensive. Some blend the fundamentals of a traditional business administration degree with technology concepts. In a Bachelor of Arts in Business Information Systems program, you may find curriculum composed of courses that may include information systems, project management, economics, accounting, business, and management, such as:

2. Computer Software Technology

A Computer Software Technology degree is designed to give you a solid foundation of mathematics and computer programming. In a Bachelor of Science in Computer Software Technology program, the curriculum typically focuses on the core pillars of the discipline: computer software development and testing, project management, and the software development lifecycle. The curriculum will immerse you in subjects that may include:

3. Cyber & Data Security Technology

The threat of cybercrime — data breaches, identity theft, and the rise in ransomware attacks — is forcing companies to invest heavily in educated professionals with the intuition and technical skills needed to protect their most valuable data. A Bachelor of Science in Cyber & Data Security Technology will be aimed at helping you secure and protect digital assets of public and private organizations by teaching you the fundamentals of information assurance and supporting principles of information security. Some of the core courses may include:

4. Information Technology

Every organization needs IT professionals to manage its computer systems. These roles can be performed in-house, or a company may rely on a third party to get the job done. Getting your foot in the door starts with a degree. A Bachelor of Science in Information Technology will train you to operate and maintain computer systems, with a specific focus on how systems collect and store information, as well as understanding of controlling how information is accessed. The curriculum in this type of program may include courses such as:

5. Information Systems Management

The proliferation of technology and the demand for updated skills is also driving many members of the workforce back to school. One STEM degree that can benefit working adults is the Master of Information Systems Management, a program that provides the knowledge and skills needed to oversee complex information technology organizations. In addition to technical skills, the degree program focuses on qualities employers look for, such as strategic business alignment, budgeting, decision support, and interpersonal skills management. The curriculum may include courses like:

Why Companies are Hiring STEM Graduates

There’s a reason one-third of Americans say their advice to a high school student would be to pursue a job in a STEM field: job security. 

The number of STEM jobs is projected to grow more than two times faster than the total for all occupations – 8% compared to 3.7% – through 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the agency that monitors and analyzes employment data. What’s driving the growth? The BLS points to the growing digital economy as the primary reason for the hiring surge, with several factors involved:

  • Increased development and deployment of the “Internet of Things” – the network of physical objects connected to the Internet, such as appliances, smart speakers, fitness trackers, etc.
  • Large-scale use of technology to link smart supply chains, smart energy, and smart agriculture systems
  • Artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, and other technologies impacting the workforce and daily life
  • The frequency and complexity of digital hacks and security breaches, which drives demand for cybersecurity professionals

The emphasis on cloud computing, data storage, and information security will add about 531,200 new jobs through 2029, BLS estimates, and the vast majority of these jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree.

What Can You Do with a STEM Degree?

STEM employment is growing overall, but there are specific jobs that are more in-demand than others, and you can link these opportunities directly to the aforementioned STEM degree programs. Here are five jobs that you may be able to pursue with a STEM degree:

1. Information security analyst

In a good sign for cyber and data security technology graduates, employment of information security analysts is projected to grow by 31%– much faster than average – through the end of the decade, according to BLS

“Demand for information security analysts is expected to be very high, as these analysts will be needed to create innovative solutions to prevent hackers from stealing critical information or causing problems for computer networks,” the agency reports. 

An information security analyst is typically tasked with:

  • Monitoring an organization’s networks for security breaches and investigating violations
  • Installing and using software, such as firewalls and data encryption programs, to protect sensitive information
  • Preparing reports that document security breaches and the extent of the damage 
  • Conducting penetration testing and attack simulations to look for vulnerabilities in their systems before they can be exploited
  • Researching the latest IT security trends
  • Developing security standards and best practices for an organization
  • Recommending security enhancements to management or senior IT staff
  • Helping computer users when they need to install or learn about new security products and procedures

2. IT manager

Information technology managers (also referred to as computer and information systems managers) apply skills learned in a Master of Information Systems Management program to strategize and implement computer-related protocols for an organization. IT managers may work in-house, for a third-party, or as independent contractors; and the role typically involves:

  • Analyzing an organization’s computer needs and recommending upgrades for top executives to consider
  • Planning and directing the installation and maintenance of computer hardware and software
  • Ensuring the security of an organization’s network and electronic documents
  • Assessing the costs and benefits of new projects and justifying funding on projects to top executives
  • Identifying ways to upgrade their organization’s computer systems
  • Determining short- and long-term personnel needs for their department
  • Planning and directing the work of other IT professionals, including computer systems analysts, software developers, information security analysts, and computer support specialists
  • Negotiating with vendors to get the highest level of service for the organization’s technology

3. Software developer

The hiring of software developers is projected to rise by 22% – much faster than average – in the coming years, BLS reports, as organizations respond to the increased demand for computer software. 

Information technology graduates will be among the best suited for these roles, as they will typically need to

  • Analyze the needs of users and create software to meet those needs
  • Recommend software upgrades for existing programs and systems
  • Design each piece of an application or system and plan how the pieces will work together
  • Create models and diagrams showing programmers the software code needed for an application
  • Ensure that a program continues to function normally through software maintenance and testing
  • Document all aspects of an application or system as a reference for future maintenance and upgrades

4. Web developer

If you’re pursuing a Computer Software Technology degree in order to become a web developer, you’ll be pleased to know the position is projected to grow by 8% – much faster than average – through 2029. The proliferation of mobile devices and ecommerce will drive the hiring trend, BLS predicts.

The title of web developer is broad and can include back-end developers, webmasters, and digital interface designers. Day-to-day workflow often includes:

  • Meeting with clients or management to discuss the needs, design, and functionality of a website or interface
  • Creating and testing applications, interfaces, and navigation menus for a website
  • Writing code for websites using programming languages such as HTML or XML
  • Working with other team members to determine what content the site will contain
  • Working with graphic designers to determine the website’s layout
  • Integrating graphics, audio, and video into the website
  • Monitoring and measuring website traffic
  • Creating prototypes and mockups of websites or applications
  • Designing and developing graphics

5. Systems analyst

A degree in business information systems can position you for a role as a systems analyst, a job category that will grow by 7% – faster than average – through 2029, according to the BLS. The agency predicts that the use of cloud computing and IT services in the healthcare industry will drive the demand for these workers.

Systems analysts bring a combination of technical and business skills to the mix, and are often tasked with:

  • Consulting with managers to determine the role of IT systems in an organization
  • Researching emerging technologies to decide if installing them can increase the organization’s efficiency and effectiveness
  • Preparing an analysis of costs and benefits so that management can decide if IT systems and computing infrastructure upgrades are financially worthwhile
  • Devising ways to add new functionality to existing computer systems
  • Designing and implementing new systems by choosing and configuring hardware and software
  • Overseeing the installation and configuration of new, customizable systems for the organization
  • Testing to ensure that the systems work as expected
  • Training end-users and writing instruction manuals

Other roles for STEM graduates include:

  • Database administrator
  • Director of business intelligence
  • Ecommerce developer
  • Enterprise systems manager
  • Network security specialist
  • Software architect or tester
  • Technical services manager

Solving the Diversity Challenge

Though job security and the potential for higher earnings are attracting college hopefuls and adult learners to pursue STEM careers, the industry is still facing a diversity challenge – namely the underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic STEM graduates, according to Pew Research Center. Women are also underrepresented in computing and engineering roles, the Center reports, although they are overrepresented in health-related jobs. 

If education is the doorway to a STEM career, accessibility is the key. Online learning has long been a means for minority communities to earn an education, as it can remove the challenges of distance learning, level the playing field, and offer affordability for students who face limited options for college. 

Some institutions, like the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC), for example, partner with employers to offer reduced tuition benefits to full-time workers. Prospective students can also apply for STEM scholarships, including a number of scholarships that are specifically for women

If you’re looking for a way to break into the fast-growing STEM field, consider an online education that is accessible and tailored to you and your career goals. Take the next step, and connect with a UAGC dvisor today to discuss a STEM-related degree program that will lay the foundation for your future.

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