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Viewpoint: Maintaining and enhancing our competitive edge

Based on the latest National Science Foundation’s evaluation of the nation’s technical resources, the country’s tepid proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has been and continues to be a national security problem. Our nation’s borders may not be in imminent danger, but our ability to produce a workforce capable of leading a global economy is compromised by the gap between the projected need for more scientists, engineers and technically proficient workers and our ability to prepare a diverse workforce with the requisite skills.

Over the past quarter century, the science and engineering workforce has more than doubled in size at an exponential rate. But demand for technical support continues to exceed the available supply. Far too few students who may be interested in the STEM fields at a young age ultimately earn a degree in these disciplines. America must take action to reinvigorate our commitment to STEM education, research and commercialization while investing in the necessary infrastructure and human capital.

In order to truly make a difference in reducing our country’s technical resource deficits, we could consider the following alternative courses of action:

(1) Ensure that more students are prepared for college-level STEM study. The National Science Foundation reports that relatively few K-12 students reach grade-specific proficiency in science; meanwhile, the Business-Higher Education Forum finds that almost half of STEM-interested 12th-grade students do not have the requisite skills in mathematics or science.

(2) Encourage interest and aptitude at all levels of postsecondary study. While advanced degrees are a big part of the equation, we need technically proficient workers at all levels: certificate holders, associate’s degree graduates and bachelor’s degree earners. Increasingly, every field needs workers who are STEM-literate and can operate computers, read blueprints, analyze data and run sophisticated equipment.

(3) Provide more secondary and undergraduate research opportunities, summer internships, faculty mentoring and modern facilities at all educational research facilities and universities.

(4) Require that students at every level be taught by creative and effective teachers educated in the STEM disciplines. Good secondary and college educators are critical to student success and should be rewarded for their hard work through the use of merit pay or differential salaries.

(5) Embrace the talents of foreign students and workers by reforming our immigration policies. Consider that in our advanced degree programs, 50 percent of our country’s engineering and math/computer science doctorate holders are foreign-born.

(6) Establish stronger links with business and industry to ensure that students are better prepared to participate in the innovation and discoveries of the next generation.

There is no greater investment for the future than a strong and concerted investment in education today.

Bill Chevalier is a resident of

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