More students in Illinois are studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) than in years previous, but retention of highly skilled STEM grads still remains a challenge, a new study from the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition found.

29.1 percent of Illinois college and university graduates earned a STEM degree in 2015, according to the ISTC’s 2016 Talent Index, a yearly analysis of the state of tech talent in Illinois. That’s up from 28.5 percent from last year’s report, and above the national average of 27 percent.

And though Chicago and Illinois remain magnets for STEM talent from the Midwest (particularly Big 10 college towns), a steady stream of Illinois graduates still head to the West Coast and other tech hubs each year, taking key skills with them.

The Pipeline

The growth was largely pushed by an increase in computer science and engineering degrees, which both bumped up significantly from 2014, the study found. For example, 2,500 students graduated with a degree in computer science in 2015, making Illinois the second-largest producer of CS degrees nationwide. That’s up 23 percent from 2014. And 53 percent of those degrees were at masters level or above, compared to 36 percent nationally.

Illinois is ahead of the national average when it comes to masters and PhD graduates in STEM fields: 35 percent of the STEM graduates in 2015 received advanced degrees, compared to 31 percent nationally. Illinois universities also employ nearly 2,300 postdocs in STEM, the seventh-most in the nation. On the business side, Illinois is also producing a high number of MBAs. In 2015, Illinois produced 7,000 MBA graduates, the fourth-most in the US.

When broken down by subject, Illinois is particularly strong compared to the rest of the country when it comes to health–41.9 percent of STEM degrees in Illinois are in health compared to 34.2 percent nationally.

(Credit: ISTC Talent Index 2016)
(Credit: ISTC Talent Index 2016)

Talent Migration

This year ISTC partnered with LinkedIn to study migration patterns among STEM graduates. They found that Illinois continues to attract STEM graduates from around the Midwest, with the top inflow coming from Indiana, Kansas, Ohio, and Iowa, as well as internationally: 3,205 more people came to Illinois from India, than left Illinois for India. These graduates are bringing skills such as foreign language translation, military and defense knowledge, Java, C+/C++ and chemistry, an analysis of LinkedIn data found.

In 2015, immigrants made up 17.7 percent of the workforce in Illinois, but accounted for 23.1 percent of STEM workers in the state and 22.1 percent of entrepreneurs, all higher than the national average, ISTC found.

International students are particularly a strong part of non-health STEM degrees: About 5,200 non-health STEM degrees went to international students, and 68 percent of those degrees were at the masters level (that’s double the number since 2007). Overall, this is 42 percent higher than the national average.

However, Illinois graduates are leaving for other major tech hubs and taking key tech skills with them. Illinois STEM graduates are heading to Washington, Colorado, Florida, Texas and California at higher rates than their graduates are coming here: 4,866 more people left Illinois for California in the last year, than came to Illinois. Skills lost from this migration include Perl/Python/Ruby, game development, cloud and distributed computing, machine learning and optical engineering.

(Credit: ISTC Talent Index 2016)
(Credit: ISTC Talent Index 2016)

The Jobs

Illinois is on-par with the national average of STEM and STEM-related jobs. Illinois has about 4.45 percent of the national share of STEM jobs (compared to 4.85 percent nationally on average), and 5.84 percent of STEM-related jobs (compared to 5.79 percent on average nationally). Healthcare counts for 95 percent of STEM-related occupations, and healthcare occupations in Illinois exceed the national average by 19 percent.

When looking at STEM, computer-related jobs are expected to grow significantly in Illinois over the next decade, despite slower-than-average growth over the last four years. Over the next ten years, STEM jobs in Illinois are expected to rise 12 percent (compared with 9 percent for the nation overall). STEM and STEM-related jobs are expected to grow faster than other occupations as well: “Seven of the top 10 fastest-growing occupations in the state are projected to be STEM or STEM-related occupations, while two of the top three—web developers and software developers, applications—are computer technology–related occupations,” ISTC points out.

(Credit: ISTC Talent Index 2016)
(Credit: ISTC Talent Index 2016)