By Gary A. Olson
There has been a steady push in New York State to address the shortage of talent in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), a factor that has been the driving force behind Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s $8 million proposal to create a STEM incentive program.
An ambitious initiative that aims to bolster the state’s STEM-educated workforce, the program provides full scholarships to students attending State University of New York or City University of New York institutions. Yet, to fully tap into the state’s higher education resources, eligibility for this program should be extended to independent universities and colleges, such as Daemen College in Amherst, an exceptional institution where I serve as president. All other scholarship programs currently in statute enable students to use their state-funded scholarship equal in value to SUNY tuition and apply that toward their degrees in private, independent colleges or universities of their choice. New York students should be able to benefit from the proposed STEM incentive program, regardless of where they decide to attend college.
At Daemen, even without an engineering program, 30 percent of the college’s students are pursuing degrees in STEM majors. According to the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, New York’s private, not-for-profit colleges and universities confer 58 percent of bachelor’s degrees in the health professions, 56 percent in biological and biomedical sciences, 50 percent in mathematics and statistics, and 45 percent in physical science technologies, all of which are STEM fields that span Daemen’s programs.
Given the outstanding STEM-related programs offered at Daemen and other independent colleges and universities in the state, extending eligibility for the incentive program to students attending these institutions will assist with reaching the program’s goal of retaining skilled students in Western New York and throughout the state.
As a result, students educated at these institutions will be more likely to remain in the area where they pursued their degree and can then step into jobs in STEM fields in those regions. Look no further than WNY’s resurgence, which includes immense growth in world-class businesses and organizations where there will be a continued and increased need for a STEM-educated workforce.
Extending the STEM incentive program to the independent sector in higher education is undeniably important to fostering the expertise and skills sought after in the STEM workforce. These industries are essential to the economic prosperity of this region and across the state. Independent institutions are an educational pipeline and resource to making the incentive program a success.
Gary A. Olson, Ph.D., is president of Daemen College in Amherst.