STEM Degrees on the Upswing in Illinois: Innovation Index Talent Report

| Mark Harris, President & CEO, Illinois Science & Technology Coalition

Supporting Workforce Development and STEM education have always been, and will always be key missions for Microsoft. Through initiatives like our YouthSpark program, we strive to bring computer science and STEM education to youth and all schools across the globe. One of the key highlights of representing Microsoft in the community is my role as member of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition (ISTC). Microsoft has worked closely with the ISTC and its Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) on STEM initiatives, such as the wonderful STEM Challenge last year with Lake View High School, one of the five Early College STEM Schools at CPS.  Recently, the ISTC released their 2015 Innovation Index on STEM Talent, which discusses where Illinois stands in the STEM field compared to other parts of the nation. It’s exciting to see the report’s promising data on the growth of Illinois’ STEM graduates –exceeding the national proportion of STEM grads as a percentage of total for the first time in over a decade!  Please take a few minutes to read this synopsis of the ISTC report, written by my good colleague and friend Mark Harris, President and CEO of ISTC.  ~Shelley Stern Grach

Tech and innovation ecosystems are driven by talent, so it’s important that we have an understanding of the production, demand, and trends around Illinois’ workforce and our graduates across institutions in science, technology, engineering, and match (STEM) disciplines.

Earlier this month, the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition (ISTC) – a member-driven nonprofit focused on growing the state’s tech economy – released the 2015 Innovation Index on STEM Talent, which offered a comprehensive analysis of Illinois’ production of STEM degrees and the demand of employment in STEM fields as well.   Since the end of the recession, more and more college students have been drawn to the study of STEM fields, and our analysis revealed that more than one in four degrees earned in Illinois are in STEM subjects, surpassing the national percentage for the first time in more than a decade (28.5 percent versus 27 percent – see chart below). Further, Illinois’ STEM degrees skew toward graduate-level study—good news for high-tech companies looking to hire local talent.


Healthcare makes up the largest concentration of the state’s STEM degrees – accounting for 44 percent of Illinois STEM degrees, compared with 37 percent nationally.   Illinois also produces a higher percentage of computer-science grads (12.7 percent) than the U.S. overall (10.8 percent) and math grads (4.5 percent) compared with the nation (4 percent).  In addition, Illinois boasts one of the largest postdoctoral researcher talent pools in the United States – providing some of the most expert science and engineering talent for the state’s research-intensive industries.   Illinois also excels in STEM-related fields such as the arts and business, with MBA’s representing 5.5 percent of all degrees granted in Illinois (compared with 3.9 percent nationally).

It’s important to note that in Illinois, one in five non-health STEM degrees go to immigrant students, reaching a peak level of almost 4,500 graduates in 2014. Overall, Illinois’ concentration of immigrant students at all levels of non-health STEM education was 40 percent higher than the US average in 2014 – and represented roughly half non-health Master’s and doctorate graduates. These staggering figures reinforce the need for reforms to our immigration system, so we can retain this talent in Illinois.


On the jobs side – our analysis shows that Illinois’ tech economy is growing, marked by an increase in computer occupations and related industries. In particular, the startup economy is creating demand for software developers and hybrid jobs that require a blend of programming or other advanced computer skills, digital marketing and data science. And the biotechnology R&D industry grew 47.3 percent in Illinois from 2011 to 2014, reversing a trend of decline over the several years prior.

Looking ahead, it is critical to continue promoting increased graduation rates in non-health STEM degrees, such as computer and data science, to capitalize on the growth of computer occupations in the state.

It is undeniable that Illinois has a lot of the pieces in place from a talent perspective to support the expanding demands for a workforce skilled in STEM and related fields – and indeed it will be our talented men and women that drive our tech economy forward.

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