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.
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  • STEAM education encourages curiosity, creativity, and innovation.
  • Many STEAM programs focus on the K-12 level, leaving out colleges.
  • Promoting STEAM can produce well-rounded graduates ready for the 21st-century workforce.

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

  • STEAM Library Guide: Paradise Valley Community College offers STEAM books, articles, and resources in its library guide. The resources, including a list of STEAM majors at the college, show how colleges can promote STEAM education.
  • STEAM in the Classroom: Connecticut's resources on STEAM in the classroom include STEAM activities, lesson plans, and curriculum tools. The site also offers tools on STEM careers and STEAM professional development focused on educators.
  • Center for STEM Education Resources: Northeastern University lists multiple college-level STEM resources and programs on its site. Aimed at educators and students, the resources include library subject guides and career tools. Northeastern also connects with projects focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM.

Examples of Successful College STEAM Education Programs

  • STEM to STEAM: The Rhode Island School of Design's commitment to STEAM education traces back over a decade. Today, the college offers dual degrees in the arts and sciences, STEM concentrations, and STEAM studio programs.
  • Center for STEAM Education: Kansas State University runs a center for STEAM education that trains educators to incorporate STEAM concepts in the classroom. College students examine STEAM research, visit classrooms as "resident scientists," and participate in sustainability projects.
  • Clemson University STEAM Network: At Clemson, the STEAM network fuses the arts with STEM. During traditional STEM activities, students examine art and design processes. Undergrads also participate in career-focused STEAM activities. The network also offers STEAM resources for educators.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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