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STEM Education Linked to Increased Innovation, Patenting

November 07, 2014
Post by Jill N. Link, Pharm.D.

An interesting new discussion paper from John V. Winters at Oklahoma State University highlights the connection between foreign and native college graduates with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degrees and per capita patenting. The data appear to disclose that the amount of STEM degrees per metropolitan area significantly increases the amount of patents issued per area. This correlation is also suggested to lead to "increase[d] innovation and provide[s] considerable economic benefits to regions and nations."

The study examines in particular the causal effects of STEM graduates produced by the U.S. educational system (as opposed to those educated outside the U.S.) in an effort to "help policymakers assess the benefits of higher education policies, especially policies intended to affect the domestic production of STEM graduates." The study points to increased innovation and patenting as particular social benefits linked to STEM education.

It is important to note, however, that while the correlative data is interesting, it is difficult to make conclusions about causation. For example, at noted elsewhere, using patent as the indicator of innovation is somewhat complicated by spectrum of patented subject matter, which is not reflected in the data. Nonetheless, the paper does help to underscore the importance of continued investment in STEM education.

The complete discussionpaper is available on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN).


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