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Scholarship dollars: STEM vs. Sports

Occupations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are critical to our nation’s workforce, infrastructure and future. STEM jobs are in high demand right now, across all industries, and will be for the foreseeable future–the number of STEM-related jobs is projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But are we putting our money where our future is?

We compared the amount of scholarship money awarded to STEM students and student-athletes to find out. The results are staggering.

After crunching numbers from the Congressional Research Service, National Center for Educational Statistics and NCAA, we found that NCAA Divisions I and II athletes are awarded more than $2.9 billion in scholarships annually, while STEM students are awarded $1.6 billion. That’s a difference of more than $1 billion.

When you break down those numbers further, you’ll find $456 is invested per STEM student and more than $19,000 is invested per student-athlete.

The return on investment comparison is also eye-opening considering that the average career length of a STEM worker is 40 to 45 years while a pro athlete’s career typically only lasts 3 to 5 years. And that’s not to mention there are less than 12,000 athletic jobs in the U.S. compared to more than 8.6 million STEM jobs.

What about salary? According to Forbes, STEM fields were home to some of the highest paying jobs in 2017, but they don’t come close to the salaries of professional athletes. The average salary for a professional athlete is $605,179, while the national average wage for all STEM occupations is $87,570.

Unlike watching an NFL game, we might not be shelling out $80 for a ticket to watch a civil engineer do their job, but that doesn’t mean we should be spending less on their education.