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Preparing for a Lucrative Career: Online STEM Education

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, commonly abbreviated as STEM, are areas of education that prepare students for related careers, many experiencing high levels of job growth. These specialized, technology-driven occupations are in demand and garner higher than average salaries, according to this Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report, which was released along with these updated job growth projections.

While the acronym STEM evokes an image of the developers, engineers and scientists who research, discover and innovate, there are many careers built around them, such as analysts, salespeople and managers, some of whom act as conduits between creators and customers. These jobs, too, require STEM education and have bright outlooks.

Between 2009 and 2015, STEM employment grew by 10.5 percent compared to 5.2 percent for non-STEM fields, according to the BLS. BLS projects employment in STEM fields will continue growing from 2016-2026, including a 28.2 percent increase in mathematical science employment and about 13 percent for STEM-related postsecondary teachers.

Not every STEM field pays higher than every non-STEM field, but the vast majority do according to BLS, which showed 93 out of 100 STEM occupations paid higher than the national average. The average STEM career salary was $87,570, almost twice the non-STEM average of $45,700 and much higher than the overall average of $48,320, according to BLS.

And STEM degree holders who choose to work in other professions earn 12 percent more than non-STEM degree holders in the same fields, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration report in March using the BLS data.

While most STEM fields require high levels of education, many STEM programs have adopted online learning models, allowing students to take advantage of the flexibility that many online programs provide. Different courses and programs offer varying options allowing students to move faster or slower depending on the amount of time they can commit, and many courses feature asynchronous learning modules that must still be completed by the student by a certain date but according to that student’s schedule.

Most STEM fields (99 percent) require some sort of higher education, a bachelor’s, associate’s or certification, compared to 36 percent for all employment fields, according to BLS. For STEM fields, 73 percent require a bachelor’s degree.

Many traditional universities have created online versions of their STEM programs, enabling interested students to learn at their own speed, with some flexibility of schedule. Below is a list of STEM careers with positive employment outlooks and examples of online programs training professionals for these lucrative careers.

The careers in this list were chosen using the following criteria:

  • An average annual salary of at least $75,000
  • Average or higher job growth rate from 2016-2026
  • A minimum of 10,000 new jobs created from 2016-2026
  • At least three universities offering related online programs

STEM Careers with High Projected Job Growth

OccupationMedian wage 2016-2026Projected job growth percentage 2016-2026Projected jobs added 2016-2026Online Programs
Computer systems analyst$87,2209%53,000Florida Tech, Boston University Metropolitan College, University of Florida
Database administrator$84,95011%13,700Southern New Hampshire University, Liberty University, Florida Tech
Electrical engineer$96,2707%21,200Arizona State University, Old Dominion University, Penn State World Campus
Information security analyst$92,60028%28,400Excelsior College, Western Governors University, Wilmington University
Mathematician and statistician$81,95033%13,300Southern New Hampshire University, North Carolina State University, Penn State World Campus
Mechanical engineer$84,1908.8%25,300Indiana State University, University of North Dakota, Colorado State University
Software developer, applications$102,28024%299,500Arizona State University, Penn State World Campus, Southern New Hampshire University
All professions (national average)$37,0407%11,500,000N/A

Software Developer, Applications

  • Description and employment projections: Combining talents and training for customer service and engineering, applications engineers often work as intermediaries between customers and multiple departments to design industrial machinery. They must be able to analyze and troubleshoot problems to make innovative changes. They also provide technical support after implementing the system.
  • Median pay for 2016: $102,280
  • Employment growth projection for 2016-2026: 24%
  • Degree programs:
    • Arizona State University, based in Tempe, Arizona, offers a bachelor’s of science degree in software engineering with project-driven classes. Based on a 12-credit hour-per-semester schedule, the school estimates $15,038 for each semester for a total of 120 credit hours. Coursework includes significant study in mathematics and engineering as well as programming, computer systems fundamentals and constructing software.
    • Penn State World Campus, which stems from The Pennsylvania State in University Park, Pennsylvania, offers an online master of software engineering degree that includes working on class projects and communicating with with other online students. The program takes two years split up into seven-week terms and includes database design, engineering theories behind hardware and software, designing systems for human use and managing software development projects, which includes controlling costs. Students taking less than 12 credit hours will pay $930 per credit. Those taking 12 or more credit hours will pay a flat rate of $11,160 per semester.
    • Southern New Hampshire University: Bachelor’s of Science in Information Technologies-Software Development


  • Description and employment projections: A statistician decides what data is relevant to answering a question and analyzes how that information can be used. They discover trends and truth as well as solve practical problems in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. While a bachelor’s degree can lead to an entry level job as a statistician, most statistician fields require a master’s degree in statistics, mathematics or quantitative field, according to BLS.
  • Median pay for 2016: $81,950
  • Employment growth projection for 2016-2026: 33%
  • Degree programs:
    • Southern New Hampshire University, based in Manchester, New Hampshire, offers an online bachelor’s degree in mathematics. Along with a background of mathematics history and its importance in human progress, the program teaches theory and applied mathematics. Coursework includes multiple calculus and algebra classes as well as formal logic and analysis. The school’s online undergraduate programs cost $960 per course or $320 per credit hour and require 120 credit hours. Additional fees vary by course.
    • North Carolina State University, out of Raleigh, North Carolina, offers an online program to earn a master of statistics degree and certificates in applied statistics and data management as well as statistics education. The online program mirrors the on-campus classes using the same lectures, assignments and exams as well as online interaction with professors and other students studying remotely, according to course materials. Coursework includes studying statistics as it relates to biological and social sciences, clinical trials and computer programming. The cost of NCSU online graduate degrees range by subject and the number of credits, but are generally $3,886.92 for nine credit hours, including tuition and other fees for North Carolina residents. For non-residents, nine credit hours would be $10,330.92. Other fees may vary by course.
    • Penn State World Campus: Master of Applied Statistics

Computer Systems Analyst

  • Description and employment projections: The analyst gathers information about a company’s resources, needs and goals and uses data modeling to advise on the technologies, hardware and software systems may be appropriate for them. They also oversee installation, monitoring and maintenance of these systems. They often work for technology and consulting firms as well as company IT departments.
  • Median pay for 2016: $87,220
  • Employment growth projection for 2016-2026: 9%
  • Degree programs:
    • The Florida Institute of Technology is based in Melbourne, Florida, and offers a bachelor’s of science degree in computer information systems. The program includes a study of database concepts, network theory as well as developing and managing computer systems. The program offers 42 classes that are each eight weeks long with an expected program completion date of four years. Coursework includes accounting, economics, marketing, statistics, network theory and information systems management to prepare students for careers working with businesses. Tuition costs $510 per credit hour or $63,240 for the 124 required credits.
    • Boston University Metropolitan College offers an online master in computer information systems degree designed for working professionals looking to move to managerial positions. The program consists of 10 courses, offering a general studies degree or concentrations in computer networks, data analytics, database management and business intelligence, health informatics, IT project management, security or web application development. When taken part time, program tuition costs $860 per credit hour as well as $60 student services and technology fees.
    • University of Florida: Bachelors of Science in Computer Science

Information Security Analyst

  • Description and employment projections: Information security includes protecting systems from day-to-day problems, such as viruses and hardware failure as well as unexpected events, natural disasters and power outages. Security analysts also design systems to limit and allow access to company data and and other information, which may include creating and maintaining firewalls as well as tiers of security clearance within a company. The analyst develops systems and procedures as well as regular maintenance, which includes routine backups and source code management.
  • Median pay for 2016: $92,600
  • Employment growth projection for 2016-2026: 28%
  • Degree programs:
    • Excelsior College, out of Albany, New York, offers a bachelor’s of science degree in information technology with an emphasis in information security through a program designed for working adults. The school specializes in distance learning and touts its opportunities for student flexibility. For a student starting without transfer credits, taking 10 courses a year, the degree costs $68,735 over four years, according to the school’s tuition cost estimator, although the school offers other options. The program targets students who already have some college credits, so the cost for these individuals is likely lower. Major-specific coursework includes designing databases, operating systems and web sites, as well learning how to administer the system.
    • Western Governors University, an online educator based in Salt Lake City, Utah, offers a master of science degree in cybersecurity and information assurance, which is designed for IT professionals who want to advance to leadership roles, or seek certifications in ethical hacking or computer forensic investigation. The program requires about 15 to 20 hours a week, although the time requirement can vary by student. The program is competency-based, meaning students can advance after completing project requirements or skills tests in specific subject areas that include network design, cyber law, cyber warfare and ethical hacking, according to program materials. Each term is six months, and students have two tracks to choose from depending on their time availability. The 18-month track costs $8,670 over its course and the 30-month track costs $14,450.
    • Wilmington University: Bachelor of science in computer and network security

Electrical Engineer

Database Administrator

Mechanical Engineer

These are just a few of the job opportunities in STEM fields, career paths that generally outpace projected employment rates for the rest of the job market.

While most require a bachelor’s degree, there is also projected job growth in careers with less postsecondary education, such as an associate’s degree or other post-high school education, such as web developers, computer support specialists and engineering technicians.

Most STEM careers with the highest rate of employment growth, though, require at least a bachelor’s degree. And in some of those careers, competition may be tough, according to BLS, because while the growth rate is high, the number of jobs was small to start with.

To move past entry and early level positions, professionals will often need higher education, such as a master’s degree, according to BLS. Once a professional’s career is moving along, though, the flexibility provided by online education for students who also work full time, can provide the perfect tool to advance.