An Updated Look at the State of Science and Engineering in the U.S.

Science centers and museums have a deep commitment to equity and inclusion in STEM, and to ensuring that those engaged in our work is representative of the diversity of the communities we serve. At present, we know that certain populations are underrepresented in the STEM workforce, obtain STEM degrees at lower rate, and score lower on standardized K–12 educational assessments. The underlying data on these trends comes from regular reports from the National Science Foundation (NSF). One of those key resources, Science and Engineering Indicators, has recently been updated for easier reference and now includes a robust set of accompanying visual materials.

Indicators, a biennial publication from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), a statistical agency within NSF that operates under the guidance of the National Science Board (NSB), synthesizes quantitative data from multiple sources on the scope, quality, and vitality of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise over time and within a global context. In the past, this influential report has been a single document over 1,000 pages long. In the latest edition, the NSB has transformed Indicators into a series of reports published on a rolling basis. In addition, a new website provides a companion set of data visualization tools and downloadable graphics.

What kinds of data can I find?

Here are examples of the types of data you can find in each thematic report:

  1. The State of U.S. Science and Engineering (January 2020): A summary report that integrates and highlights data from the thematic reports to draw attention to important trends in context of the global landscape. Browse the report.
  2. K–12 Education (September 2019): Science, math, and technology and engineering literacy scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP); the experience levels and certifications of 8th grade public school math teachers; participation in Advanced Placement (AP) courses; and what students do after they graduate high school. Browse the report.
  3. Higher Education (September 2019): Types of U.S. postsecondary institutions and the degrees they award; demographics of degree recipients; the costs of higher education; and financial aid and federal support for students. Browse the report.
  4. Labor Force (September 2019): Size and growth of the U.S. science and engineering workforce–broken down by occupation and industry– as well as the demographics, salaries, and degrees held by workers. Spotlights the skilled technical workforce: individuals who use STEM knowledge and skills in their jobs but do not have a bachelor’s degree. Browse the report.
  5. Industry Activities (January 2020): Analyzes the global production and trade trends of knowledge- and technology-intensive (KTI) industries such as aircraft manufacturing, publishing, IT services, and electronics. It also discusses the potential economic and societal impacts of artificial intelligence (AI), as many KTI industries are either developing or using AI. Browse the report.
  6. Research and Development
    • Research and Development: U.S. Trends and International Comparisons (January 2020): Expenditures by sector and industry, as well as sources of funding. Browse the report.
    • Academic Research and Development (January 2020): Differences in expenditures on basic research, applied research, and experimental development at U.S. higher education institutions, as well as the state of research facilities and equipment. Browse the report.
    • Publications Output (December 2019): Output and impact of publications in peer-reviewed science and engineering journals and conference proceedings by field and geography. Browse the report.
  7. Innovation (January 2020): Tracks patent activity, trademark applications, and plant variety protections; collaborations between academia, business, and Federal labs; and Federal programs that support innovation. Browse the report.
  8. American Attitudes on Science (forthcoming, previewed here): Pulls together data from multiple national surveys to paint a picture of how public perceptions of science and technology can influence social acceptance of innovations as well as the progress of science.

How do I use this data?

Understanding industry and labor force trends broadens our awareness of the larger science and engineering enterprise, both in the U.S. and globally. Growing industries and areas of research and development investment can point to potential science and society topics for programs or exhibits, as they are emerging topics that may be important for the public to understand. As many science center programs for youth and young adults are designed to support a path to a STEM career, understanding higher education degree attainment, and the associated labor market trends within occupational categories, can help us provide more accurate information about the opportunities and challenges that youth face.

State-level data

In addition to national data and trends, Indicators provides state-level data. For example, you can use the State Indicators tool to explore how your state has performed on key indicators, such as the number of associate’s degrees conferred, the percentage of technical workers, or the percentage of residents who have earned at least a high school credential.

One of the most exciting capabilities of the new Science and Engineering Indicators website is the ability to create custom charts comparing your state to the national average or to another state. For example, below is a custom chart comparing 8th grade science performance on the NAEP in Wisconsin and Mississippi.

How eighth grade students in Wisconsin and Mississippi performed on the NAEP science assessment in 2009, 2011, and 2015
Note: It is not possible to download a custom graph, but, if you enlarge the graph by clicking on it, you can then take a screenshot and save the chart as an image to use in your own materials.

Making the case

This type of data is critical in making the case for your institution and its programs to funders, policymakers, potential partners, and other stakeholders. For example, if your development team is writing a funding proposal for a new youth career ladder program for high school students, you might pair the state-level higher education indicators with additional peer-reviewed research to tell a story about who has access to higher education and what young people need to succeed in these degree programs.

Indicators is well-regarded among various political parties and is policy neutral, making it a particularly useful tool when developing relationships with policymakers or advocating for public funding.

In 2020, ASTC’s Communications and Advocacy Team is developing new resources and tools to help you advocate for more funding and support. If you need help making the case for the work you do, or have suggestions for how ASTC can help, please reach out to me, Melissa Ballard, Senior Manager of Public Policy and Advocacy, at

Scroll to Top