For good-paying technology jobs, the Capital Region is both above average -- and below. For its share of jobs that require a four-year degree, the region is toward the top of a list of nation's largest technology hubs.
But the region lags in such jobs available to people with associate degrees or less, according to a report issued last week by the not-for-profit Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution. That disparity reflects a national trend made worse by a federal government that aims most financial support toward helping people get higher degrees in fields involving science, technology, engineering or mathematics, or STEM.
In 2011, there were more than 87,600 so-called STEM jobs in the Capital Region, said report author Jonathan Rothwell on Monday. That was 21 percent of all jobs, up from less than 19 percent just four years earlier and enough to put the region 26th on the top 100 list of metropolitan areas for STEM jobs.
More than 55 percent of these jobs were held by people with a bachelor's degree or better -- a share that raised the region to 19th on the national list. But less than 45 percent of jobs went to people with less education, which dropped the region down to 82nd on the list.
"There are jobs in the region for both people with bachelor's degrees or better, or those with sub-bachelor's. But the jobs are more oriented toward the higher degrees," said Rothwell.
The Capital Region reflects a national tale of two STEM economies -- one of highly-educated professionals with high-paying jobs, and the other populated by trained technicians who make above-average wages to make products and keep systems running.
Wages are better for STEM jobs -- a worker with a bachelor's degree earns nearly $70,000 on average, while one with an associate's degree or less earns $54,700. Those figures are much less for workers in non-STEM jobs.
Government policies have focused primarily on encouraging higher degree STEM jobs, said Rothwell. Of $4.3 billion in federal spending to support STEM education, 45 percent has gone toward programs aimed at bachelor's degrees or higher -- more than double what was earmarked to encourage lesser degrees or certificates, Rothwell said.
That disparity is happening as community colleges struggle with declining state and local budgets. Average spending for community college students remained almost unchanged the last decade, while spending at public and private research universities rose 11 and 31 percent, respectively, according to a report last month by the not-for-profit Century Foundation.
Hudson Valley Community College, where tuition has risen 66 percent during the last decade, receives no direct federal funding for its operations, and relies on state and county funds, and student tuition, said Eric Bryant, assistant director of communications and marketing.
However, HVCC has created technology training programs aimed at photovoltaic, green technology, semiconductors, nanotech, and biological technology with help from $6.8 million in grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Labor Department, he said.
The college has a two-year biotechnology associate degree and a one-year biotechnology certificate, both of which are aimed directly at biotechnology lab careers.
"This program works with local companies like Regeneron and AMRI to prepare students for tech careers," said Bryant.
Rothwell said the federal government was "creating a two-tier system" for technology education by not providing enough support for community colleges.
"It is important that we ensure than associate degrees in technology are a viable career option."
But with federal austerity policies unlikely to change, community colleges may have to make partnerships with private businesses to get the funding needed to develop classes and keep equipment up to date, he added.
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