Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We Need Fewer Science Majors Not More

It's an article of faith: the United States needs more native-born students in science and other technical fields. The National Academies' influential Rising Above the Gathering Storm report in 2006 said the nation should "enlarge the pipeline of students who are prepared to enter college and graduate with a degree in science, engineering, or mathematics" to remain competitive. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce had a similar message on the gap in so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) students a year before. President Barack Obama has pushed for more science teachers and training for the same reason.

But a new paper (pdf) contradicts the notion of a shrinking supply of native-born talent in United States. "Those who advocate increasing the supply of STEM talent should cool their ardor a little bit," says one of its authors, B. Lindsay Lowell, a demographer at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

The supply has actually remained steady over the past 30 years, the researchers conclude from an analysis of six longitudinal surveys conducted by the U.S. government from 1972 to 2005. However, the highest-performing students in the pipeline are opting out of science and engineering in greater numbers than in the past, suggesting that the threat to American economic competitiveness comes not from inadequate science training in school and college but from a lack incentives that would make science and technology careers attractive.


Anonymous said...

If every graduate were qualified to be absorbed into the workforce, it might be true. Unfortunately we don't accept credentials alone.

I might mention that CS enrollment is down at all institutions in the U.S. save one, FIU. The need for qualified applicants is reaching critical proportions.

On the other hand, my brother hired fresh water biology grads as part-time slave labor with no benefits for several years. They had few options.

Finally, the paper was published 10-28 which hardly gives it time to receive considered response, so let's no go overboard. Saying something is "an article of faith" in the science community is the kind of statement you hear from the Competitive Enterprise Institute flacks.

Dan said...

I feel that this post makes a good point, relating to what is needed to make a strong economy. If these students are switching due to lack of interest, then they need to be encouraged in what they want to engage in not what they should engage in.
Chances are, if these students are leaving the field even though they have a strong talent in the area then they can't be convinced to go back. These fields mentioned are important to maintain a healthy economy but in the end its the choice that the student makes.