Skip to Content
Resource Articles //

Choosing Between STEM and STEAM Education

For those involved in STEM education leadership, the exclusion or inclusion of the arts is one of the key debates.

Are we neglecting the arts? That’s the question faced by everyone in STEM education, from state legislators to teachers to doctors of education. Right now, there’s no consensus as to whether it’s better to focus on STEM education or to add an arts component and transform it into STEAM education. Here’s where the debate stands.

Why STEM Education Exists

The STEM acronym was created to give educators and policymakers an easy way to reference the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Currently, not enough U.S. college students are graduating with degrees in these four fields to meet the projected job growth in occupations such as computer systems analysis, software systems development, medical science, and biomedical engineering.* U.S. leaders and policymakers are worried that, if the country doesn’t increase the number of STEM graduates, STEM jobs will go to other countries, denying the U.S. good jobs and boosting the fortunes of other nations, giving them a competitive edge that could lead to a long-term economic advantage.

Choosing Between STEM and STEAM Education

To prevent a shortfall of STEM professionals, the U.S. government is undertaking a broad-based plan to increase the number of STEM educators, improve STEM teacher retention rates, and raise the number of college students graduating with STEM degrees. This plan involves grade schools, secondary schools, community colleges, 4-year colleges, and graduate schools, and even includes non-school educational environments such as those overseen by the National Park Service. The goal is to equitably engage all students in STEM learning so that the nation can have a populace capable of critical thinking and innovation, and a workforce prepared for the best jobs of the future.

Why Some Want to Make STEM Into STEAM

STEAM education adds the arts into STEM. “Art,” in this case, is a broad term encompassing the visual, written, and performative arts along with social studies, philosophy, language arts, etc. In a traditional liberal arts educational environment, the arts are separated from the STEM fields. Proponents of STEAM don’t want to replicate that. Instead, they seek to integrate the arts into STEM education in a way they believe will enhance the value of what’s being learned.

At its core, STEAM is an effort to use the arts to spark imagination and creativity in STEM students, pushing them to think in the kinds of original ways that lead to true innovation. While there is no government initiative driving STEAM, numerous organizations and universities are crafting STEAM-oriented programs that incorporate elements like graphic design, ethics, and persuasive writing into STEM courses.

STEAM educators differ on the exact methods of STEAM education, but they share the goal of creating a more holistic educational experience than the one they believe STEM education provides. By embracing a broader spectrum of teaching methods, they believe they can better help students of diverse learning styles understand and excel in STEM subjects. This, in turn, would improve students’ chances of succeeding in STEM fields.

How Do You Choose Between STEM and STEAM?

Those who advocate for leaving the arts out of STEM argue that STEM education already includes plenty of creative thinking. They worry that focusing too much time on non-STEM subjects will dilute the quality of STEM education and leave students underqualified for STEM fields. Advocates of STEAM disagree for the reasons addressed above.

So, who’s right? That’s difficult to say. But if you’re interested in the STEM vs. STEAM debate, you can play a role in the direction our education system takes. Thanks to the opportunities provided by online education, it’s now more convenient than ever before to earn the kind of degree that can help propel you into an education leadership role. Perhaps the best choice for aspiring leaders is a Doctor of Education (EdD). This degree program can help you gain the skills you’ll need to analyze meaningful research into STEM and STEAM, and develop the educational solutions that could resolve the debate between the two.

Classroom educators who want to inspire their students in the field of STEM may wish to consider a master’s in education, such as a MS in Education (MSEd). Many MSEd degrees now come with the option of specializing in STEM.

The advantages of enrolling in an online EdD or MSEd program are many. You won’t have to move to be close to your doctoral or master’s program, since you’ll be able to complete most coursework from home. Plus, an online university’s programs give you excellent flexibility, allowing you to fit earning a degree into your busy life. If you want to become one of the education experts leading the way on STEM and STEAM, earning an EdD online could prove to be the perfect next step.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online Doctor of Education degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

*U.S. Department of Education, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Education for Global Leadership, on the Internet at

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements.

Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to

Prospective Alabama students: Contact the Teacher Education and Certification Division of the Alabama State Department of Education at 1-334-242-9935 or to verify that these programs qualify for teacher certification, endorsement, and/or salary benefits.

Note to all Washington residents: This program is not intended to lead to teacher certification. Teachers are advised to contact their individual school districts as to whether this program may qualify for salary advancement.