Many STEM Jobs Don’t Require a Four-Year College Degree

Susan Hall

The whole saga of contractor Edward Snowden, who spilled top-secret information about the government’s electronic data-collection program, raises a lot of questions. Not the least of which is: How did a high-school dropout land a job paying $122,000 at Booz Allen Hamilton?

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IT Professionals' Salaries on the Rise in 2013

Snowden’s failure to complete high school and military training should have raised plenty of red flags, according to a story at USA Today. That piece suggests that government agencies have become so desperate for tech talent that they’ve opened themselves up to security risks.

A new report from The Brookings Institution, "The Hidden STEM Economy," however, finds that a college degree isn’t required for many jobs in science, technology, math and engineering.

It says 20 percent of all U.S. jobs require a high level of knowledge in a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) field.

Half of all STEM jobs, though, don’t require a four-year college degree. These jobs pay on average $53,000 —10 percent more than other jobs with similar educational requirements. Still, that’s a far cry from what Snowden was making.

While Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., have the most STEM-based economies, the paper says, Baton Rouge, La., Birmingham, Ala., and Wichita, Kan., are among the metropolitan areas with large numbers of STEM jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

Even in Silicon Valley, 27.5 percent of the STEM jobs don’t require a college degree, and those jobs pay on average $73,000, reports That’s $30,000 more than the average for jobs outside STEM.

"The overemphasis on four-year and higher degrees as the only route to these careers has neglected cheaper and more widely available pathways," the report says.

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