National studies practically scream about the opportunities available in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or so-called STEM fields.
With starting salaries ranging from $55,000 to $98,000 for graduates with engineering degrees, compared with $38,900 for communications degrees, the money is pretty good too.
The problem is finding people willing to pursue the STEM degrees.
"If you ask a group of Americans, 'How many of you know someone who started as a pre-med major but then switched to something else?' most people raise their hands," said Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
UMBC is considered one of the nation's foremost institutions for turning out STEM graduates, and Hrabowski, who recently spent time at Metropolitan State University of Denver as a guest lecturer, said that's because his school has "rethought the learning process," forgoing dry lectures for more hands-on problem-solving, using issues from on-campus biotech companies.
In Colorado, other schools also are trying to change how STEM education is perceived in an effort to attract more interest. The University of Colorado Denver, for example, has been hosting a series of free workshops in which high-school and middle-school students can dip their toes into subjects such as "Mathematics for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Emergencies," "Closing In on Dark Matter" or "Computer Vision."
So far, the evenings have been successful, usually drawing standing-room-only crowds of eager students and parents.
"I love it when it's packed; it makes me feel optimistic about the future," said Peggy Mott, whose daughter Terran is a freshman at Lakewood High School.
Peggy Mott is a civil engineer, and Terran has her heart set on pursuing a career in physics. Both are part of a trend in Colorado, which has seen an increasing number of women moving into STEM areas. Attendance at schools such as Colorado State University and the Colorado School of Mines has increased in recent years, with the latter housing the nation's largest collegiate chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.
But the state is an exception to the rule. According to one national study, STEM jobs are expected to increase 20 percent by 2018 — more than twice the rate of growth in the overall labor force.
At the same time, 60 percent of students who begin high school interested in STEM education change their mind by the time they graduate, according to a study by STEMConnector, which maps STEM education trends throughout the United States.
Hrabowski said about the same percentage of college students also switch out of STEM majors within their first two years of school, and it's the result of the old-school teaching approaches as well as the shock that occurs when traditionally accomplished students face even a taste of struggle.
"It's the culture of science, teaching and learning in our society. We tend to assume most people won't make it, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," he said. "We call the first year of science and engineering 'weed-out courses,' and while it may be true that some people don't have the background, the truth is the higher the SAT, the greater the number of Advanced Placement credits, the odds are greater that that student will leave after the first year.
"That student gets a C in a chemistry or engineering course, and they're gone," he said.
For younger students, the problem tends to be a preconceived notion of what a STEM education entails, according to Inge Wefes, associate dean of the graduate school at CU Denver. The seminars at her school are an attempt, she said, to help students realize the wide variety of possibilities out there.
"It's an appetizer, and hopefully they'll become curious and more aware of an area that may trigger their interests," Wefes said. "They may not want to build bridges, but perhaps they'll see or hear something that may intrigue them about biomedical engineering."
$55,000 - $98,000
The starting salary range for college graduates with engineering degrees
Average starting salary for college grads with communications degrees
The expected increase in science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs — or STEM fields — by 2018.
The percentage of students who begin high school interested in a STEM field who change their mind by the time they graduate