Putting the Arts Back in STEM: Why Colleges Should Focus More on STEAM Education

STEAM adds the arts to STEM. Colleges must focus on STEAM education to produce creative, innovative graduates ready for the 21st-century job market.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published October 25, 2022

Edited by Cameren Boatner
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Putting the Arts Back in STEM: Why Colleges Should Focus More on STEAM Education
Image Credit: Solskin / DigitalVision / Getty Images


You've heard of STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math. But have you heard of STEAM?

STEAM adds something important to STEM: the arts.

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What is STEAM education, and why is it important? The arts encourage curiosity and creative thinking. Incorporating the arts into STEM helps foster more innovative and well-rounded thinkers. By focusing on STEAM, colleges can prepare graduates for the challenges of the 21st-century job market.

What Is STEAM Education?

What does STEAM stand for in education? STEAM means science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math. Adding the arts helps strengthen creativity, innovation, and curiosity. These skills can transform STEM.

Currently, STEAM is primarily taught at the K-12 level. But colleges should also incorporate the arts into STEM programs.

STEM vs. STEAM Education

What's the difference between STEM and STEAM education? STEM focuses on analytical thinking and problem-solving. STEAM emphasizes those vital skills along with creativity, communication, and collaboration.

Adding the arts encourages students to find connections and think outside the box. That makes STEAM critical in higher education.

Why Is STEAM Education Important in College?

At the K-12 level, STEAM education encourages innovation and connections. But why is STEAM so important in higher education?

The STEM Economy

The number of STEM jobs is projected to grow at twice the rate of non-STEM jobs from 2021-2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. STEM occupations also pay a median annual wage that's more than double the non-STEM median annual wage.

Colleges need to prepare their students for the STEM economy — and STEAM education can help.

Interdisciplinary Training

Specializing in one subject can narrow your skill set. In contrast, interdisciplinary education helps create well-rounded thinkers.

STEAM majors are interdisciplinary by definition. Adding a liberal arts minor to a STEM degree or double majoring in STEM and the arts can promote cross-disciplinary skills.

Creative Thinking

Where would STEM be without creativity? Innovation plays a key role in STEM jobs, and STEAM education encourages creative thinking.

Engineers with creative problem-solving skills and tech professionals who leverage imagination can transform the economy. In addition, creative thinking helps college graduates thrive in the 21st-century workforce.

Encouraging Diversity

STEM has a diversity challenge. But STEAM promotes learning diversity and encourages student engagement.

STEAM's commitment to open-ended problem-solving, visual thinking, and creativity can bring more underrepresented groups like women and students of color into STEM majors.

How Colleges Can Incorporate the Arts Into STEM Education

Colleges benefit from including the arts in their STEM programs. Here are some ways colleges can incorporate STEAM education.

Steps to Implementing STEAM Education in College

  1. 1

    Encourage STEM majors to explore the liberal arts: STEM majors may suffer when they only take STEM classes. So, promote liberal arts minors, concentrations, and double majors. Use general education courses to promote STEAM concepts like creative thinking.

  2. 2

    Promote interdisciplinary learning: Integrate STEM into arts and humanities classes. Include design in STEM courses. Offer interdisciplinary classes or majors that encourage students to think broadly.

  3. 3

    Think beyond education majors: Many colleges offer STEAM programs for education majors. These programs train K-12 teachers in STEAM concepts. Expand these programs to include STEM majors and faculty.

Resources for Colleges Implementing STEAM Education

Examples of Successful College STEAM Education Programs

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