President Obama signed the STEM Education Act of 2015 into law Thursday, Oct. 8. The bill strengthens efforts at the federal level to ensure that computer science skills are included among science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. 

The bipartisan bill was introduced by Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn.

“We must prepare our students for degrees in STEM subjects to ensure that they have the ability to thrive in today's technology-based economy,” Smith in a press release. “This means motivating more American students to study STEM subjects, including computer science.”

American students lag behind many other nations when it comes to STEM education, currently ranking 21st in science and 26th in math.

“The STEM Education Act expands the definition of STEM, encourages students to study these subjects and trains more teachers,” Smith added.

The STEM Education Act directs the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue to award competitive, merit-reviewed grants to support informal STEM education (work that takes place outside of the classroom at places like museums, science centers and afterschool programs).

The bill also amends the NSF Noyce Master Teaching Fellowship program to allow teachers in pursuit of master’s degrees to participate in the program, which will allow more teachers the opportunity to compete for the grants, and requires that computer science be officially added as a subject for the scholarship program. The bill also requires supported activities to include research and development that improves understanding of learning and engagement in informal environments to improve STEM learning outcomes and increase engagement for elementary and secondary school students, teachers, and the public.

“Enactment of our bipartisan STEM Education Act demonstrates that we can work together to help our students thrive and to help ensure that they are prepared for the careers of tomorrow,” Esty said in the release. “More and more jobs of the 21st century require science, technology, engineering and math skills. We need to make sure that all of our students have opportunities to thrive in STEM education.”