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{{RELATEDLINKS}}Workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields play a direct role in driving economic growth. Yet, because of how the STEM economy has been defined, policymakers have mainly focused on supporting workers with at least a bachelor’s (BA) degree, overlooking a strong potential workforce of those with less than a BA. In response to this, the latest report from the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings — The Hidden STEM Economy — presents a new way to define STEM occupations. The approach used does not seek to classify occupations based on what workers do — such as research, mathematical modeling, or programming — but rather what workers need to know to perform their jobs.

Brookings’ analysis of the occupational requirements for STEM knowledge finds that: This report presents a new portrait of the STEM economy. Of the $4.3 billion spent annually by the federal government on STEM education and training, only one-fifth goes towards supporting sub-bachelor’s level training, while twice as much supports BA or higher level-STEM careers. The vast majority of National Science Foundation spending ignores community colleges. In fact, says the report, STEM knowledge offers attractive wage and job opportunities to many workers with a post-secondary certificate or associate’s degree. According Brookings, policymakers and leaders can do more to foster a broader absorption of STEM knowledge by the U.S workforce and its regional economies.

One place where this is happening is in Virginia, according to Elizabeth Narehood, managing director of Future Focus Foundation, and Virginia's Region 2000 Business & Economic Development Alliance. Begun in August 2013 — XLR8: Lynchburg Regional Governor’s STEM Academy - represents the 16th academy in Virginia offering programs in the STEM disciplines. It is housed on the campus of Central Virginia Community College.

Additionally, the nonprofit organization FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in STEM. And Discovery Education, part of the global media company Discovery Communications, is strengthening a STEM relevant message with industry support.