The NCSL Blog


By Autumn Rivera

More afterschool and summer learning programs are offering STEM programs but many students lack access to them, according to a recent report.

Children working with teacherAfterschool Alliance reported how STEM-focused afterschool programs offer unique opportunities for youth in science, technology, engineering and math, including hands-on learning to reengage students as they transition back to in-person learning, connecting students to potential future careers, and empowering student agency and voice to build effective communication and teamwork skills. 

According to the research, girls and students of color are gaining more access to STEM learning opportunities. However, other inequities exist in access to STEM programming in afterschool between the lowest- and highest-income brackets. Barriers include the cost of programs, lack of transportations and lack of available programs. 

This data was collected before schools changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and follow-up surveys were conducted later to see how programs responded to the challenges.  

America After 3PM, conducted by Afterschool Alliance, is a nationally representative survey of randomly selected adults who live in the United States and are the parents or guardians of a school-age child who lives in their household.

Beginning in 2004, Afterschool Alliance has periodically released their America After 3PM report which has provided the most comprehensive national and state-specific account of how children and youth spend their afterschool hours. The surveys went out to 31,055 households.

Since 2014, Afterschool Alliance has been collecting data on STEM through its America After 3PM report. The report has provided the most comprehensive national and state-specific account of how children and youth spend their afterschool hours. To learn more about their American After 3PM report, check out this blog

Afterschool and summer learning programs give students the opportunity to experience a variety of hands-on learning techniques that they may not get to experience during a traditional school day.

Students who are able to attend high-quality afterschool programs that have a focus on STEM programming have shown to increase their STEM skills and offer a higher likelihood of graduating and pursuing a career in STEM. These programs have also been shown to be effective in engaging diverse student populations that are underrepresented in the STEM field, particularly girls and minority students. STEM afterschool programs allow for partnerships among schools and the community including libraries, museums, universities and businesses.  

Policymakers have used legislation to provide more STEM-focused learning to groups that otherwise would not have access. One way is by offering funding through grant programs for STEM-related programs.

Back in 2016, Maryland passed HB 116 to create the Education Robotics Grants program. This was designed to offer grants to public schools or nonprofits in the community who wanted to partner with public schools to offer robotics clubs. In 2019, Maryland passed SB 180, which expanded the program from a minimum of $250,000 a year to $500,000.

To combat the lack of access to STEM programs during traditional school hours, policymakers have partnered with universities to provide students with these learning opportunities. For example, in 2019, New Jersey passed SB 3685 which expands the Accessing Careers in Engineering and Science (ACES) program.

This includes a pre-college summer program at a New Jersey research university for underrepresented high school students. Students attend a one-to-two-week residential program. The program is meant to introduce high school students to a range of topics in science, engineering, mathematics and technology in a hands-on learning environment.  

As policymakers aim to train the next generation of workers, many have focused on investing in STEM-related programs to prepare students for that. In 2020, Rhode Island introduced HB 7676. If enacted, it would authorize $2 million to support comprehensive and effective afterschool, summer learning and workforce development programs for students in grades K-12. 

More recently, policymakers have used STEM programs to deal with challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. To combat learning loss in Tennessee, they passed HB 7004, or the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Ac, in 2021.

Local education agencies and public charter schools are required to implement a program of afterschool learning mini camps, learning loss bridge camps, and summer learning camps to remediate student learning loss. This defines afterschool learning mini camps as an afterschool learning program “designed to remediate student learning using science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics.” 

Afterschool Alliance’s recommendations related to increasing STEM in afterschool include exploring how parents in other communities see STEM learning, increasing the number of afterschool programs that include STEM, increasing community partnerships with the larger STEM education community and afterschool programs, improving assessment measures of afterschool STEM learning, expanding efforts to promote STEM learning for girls in programs, and increasing investments in afterschool programs.

To learn more parent responses and to look at more of the data around STEM in afterschool and summer learning programs, check out Afterschool Alliance’s STEM Learning in Afterschool on the Rise, But Barriers and Inequities Exist.


Autumn Rivera is a policy associate with NCSL’s Education Program.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.