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Report: After-school STEM learning on the rise nationally, but lags in Iowa


With demand for well-trained STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workers expected to skyrocket, after-school programs in Iowa and across the country can play a critical role in preparing the workforce of the future, according to a new report.  

The report by the Afterschool Alliance found that Iowa is behind the rest of the nation in the percentage of students participating in after-school STEM programs, and that the percentage of Iowa students participating in a STEM after-school program has actually declined since 2014.

Additionally, while after-school programs are reaching populations underrepresented in STEM fields, including Black and Latino students, students from low-income families are much less likely to be getting technology/engineering and computer science activities after school than students from higher-income families nationwide, the report found.

Today, 66% of Iowa parents report that their children’s after-school programs are providing STEM, a drop from 72% in 2014. Sixty percent of parents nationally reported that their child participates in STEM activities after school twice or more per week. By comparison, 47% of parents surveyed in Iowa reported that level of participation.

The report, “STEM Learning in Afterschool on the Rise, But Barriers and Inequities Exist,” was conducted by Edge Research for the Afterschool Alliance. In total, just under 30,000 Iowa students are among more than 5.7 million students nationwide that are getting STEM learning opportunities in their after-school programs, the study found.  

“Our programs here in Iowa have been doing heroic work during the pandemic, helping students who have suffered more than a year of isolation, learning loss and trauma,” said Britney Samuelson, Network Lead of the Iowa Afterschool Alliance, who is also director of Capital Crossroads.

Parental support for the programs is high. Three out of four parents nationally and in Iowa say that after-school programs help children gain interest and skills related to STEM. Seventy-two percent of parents across the country say STEM and computer science learning opportunities were important in choosing an after-school program for their child, up from 53% in 2014. In Iowa, 61% of parents say that today.

“Many programs provided STEM learning before and during the pandemic,” Samuelson said in a press release. “We are pleased to see that a growing number of parents recognize the importance of STEM learning in afterschool, but we also recognize that we have more work to do. We are determined to find ways to increase resources and engage new partners so that all Iowa families have the afterschool programs they need and all children and youth get STEM in their afterschool programs.”

Nationwide, learning opportunities in each of the STEM disciplines – science learning, technology and engineering, and math – are more available in after-school programs today than they were in 2014. Two in five parents across the country (41%) report that their child’s after-school program offers computer science opportunities – a question asked for the first time in this survey.

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