STEM education refers to science, technology, engineering and math, disciplines that are important not only for students but for the country in general. As these classes are often more demanding on students, STEM programs encourage students to enroll in and learn these subjects to improve international competitiveness in important fields.
One major focus of STEM programs is encouraging female students to study these subjects. Historically, the harder sciences were often viewed as more suitable for male students, while female students were encouraged to go into liberal arts or other "softer" subjects. This has resulted in a significant gender discrepancy in STEM careers, and is part of the reason for the gender gap in wages. Similarly, STEM programs also focus on getting African-American and Latino students involved, as both populations are also underrepresented in the fields.
Another major hurdle for STEM programs is getting students to stay the course. Studies have shown that a significant number of students express interest in STEM fields when entering high school, but more than half either lose interest or switch focus due to the difficulty of the work. One common solution to address this problem is to introduce STEM classes earlier in school, easing elementary school students into the subjects and slowly increasing the complexity of the education over time.