Your business major might qualify for STEM certification = Work experience in the U.S. for 3 years!
Each year, more than 100,000 international students studying in the U.S. take advantage of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) that is available during or upon completion of their degree program. For many students, gaining work experience while studying in the United States can be a valuable learning tool, a resume builder, and a significant return on their investment. In a survey conducted by World Education Services (WES), 73 percent of international students and alumni participants identified the access to work experience as one of the primary considerations in their decision to study in the U.S. (1)
OPT for STEM majors
In 2016, a two-year extension for students in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) majors was added. This allows students in these programs to lengthen the timeline of their work experience to a total of three years. Not only is this a significant benefit to international students, but it has allowed U.S. companies to retain skilled workers and benefit from the cultural competence they bring to their positions.
Some may assume that STEM designation is only granted for majors directly related to the subjects listed above. However, also included in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security approved list of programs are fields that “involve research, innovation, or development of new technologies using engineering, mathematics, computer science, or natural sciences.” (2)
Business majors who receive STEM designation
This changed definition has provided opportunities for business majors that meet these criteria to receive STEM designation. As a result, some U.S. institutions are intentionally working to expand their offerings of STEM business majors to not only increase the opportunities for international students but to offer programs for all graduates to be better prepared to work in a digital economy. According to AACSB, “Business grads must be the technology experts and digital value creators. Organizations increasingly need professionals and executives who can be ambidextrous with business and technology.” (3)
University of Northern Iowa prepares its graduates
The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) was one of the earliest schools to receive STEM designation for its undergraduate and graduate accounting program. This new designation reflects an increasing emphasis on adding quantitative analysis and data science technologies throughout the curriculum, mirroring a trend in the accounting profession, where these skills are in high demand.
“We are seeing a shift in what new accountants are doing on the job, and as a result, we are doing the best we can to have students ready when they reach the workforce. Both our undergraduate and graduate curriculum emphasize STEM skills or technologies in almost every accounting course,” said Joe Ugrin, accounting department head. ”UNI accounting students are already in high demand. This will make the demand even greater.”
The growth of STEM-certified business programs
Many other institutions are following suit and the response from students is clear as universities are seeing a significant growth in STEM-certified business programs in comparison to their programs without STEM designation (4). This trend is not likely to slow down as it is a win-win for both the institution and the student: not to mention the companies who will benefit from well-prepared and savvy international graduates.
- Career Prospects and Outcomes of U.S.-Educated International Students: Improving Services, Bolstering Success (2017). WES Research.
- US Immigration and Custom Enforcement (2022). DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List.
- STEM and Business Degrees Strengthen Universities and Communities (2020) AACSB.
- The Global Demand for Graduate Management Education: Application Trends Survey(2021) GMAC Research.
Kristi Marchesani, PhD is the director of international recruitment and admissions at the University of Northern Iowa.
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