Is West Virginia trailing its neighbors in science, technology, engineering and math in higher education? West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee said so during his State of the University address on March 19.
"Our state has fewer science, technology, engineering and math graduates than any neighboring state," Gee said.
We decided to see if Gee was correct. We defined a "neighboring state" as one that shares a border with West Virginia: Maryland, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
To support his assertion, Gee’s office referred us to a website run by a corporate-location consulting firm called the Site Selection Group. The site provides statistics for STEM degrees conferred in 2016.
Using raw numbers of graduates, Gee is correct: West Virginia conferred 4,912 STEM degrees, which is smaller than the neighboring five states. The second-smallest was Kentucky, with 8,252 degrees.
However, looking just at raw numbers of graduates is misleading because West Virginia has a smaller population than any of the other states. To cancel out the effect of population, we also looked at the percentage of all degrees conferred in the state that were for STEM fields.
On this measure, West Virginia ranks last among nearby states, too, though the comparison is closer. (We used data from the federal Department of Education that combines associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorates conferred in each state for 2015-2016.)
We found that 16 percent of West Virginia’s degrees came in STEM fields, close to -- but behind -- Virginia at 17 percent and Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania at 18 percent. Maryland was the clear leader with 23 percent.
Gee said, "Our state has fewer science, technology, engineering, and math graduates than any neighboring state." He’s right both on the raw numbers and as a percentage of all degrees granted, though measuring by percentage, it’s a pretty close competition.
We rate the statement True.