Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Comentarios from Maria: “Strengthening the STEM Pipeline”

Maria CNN HeadshotFrom your organization’s perspective, why is it necessary to strengthen the STEM pipeline? And what are the best ways to accomplish it?

America faces an acute STEM jobs gap, and what makes the crisis worse is that we aren’t producing enough students trained in those fields to fill those jobs in the future.  STEM-related occupations are the second-fastest growing in the country, coming in just behind jobs in the health care industry, according to a Georgetown University study.  And while the nation is expected to have more than 8.6 million STEM-related jobs available in 2018, the National Math and Science Initiative warns as many as three million of those jobs could go unfilled at the current rate the U.S. produces workers trained in STEM.

If the nation is to keep up with the growing number of jobs in STEM and computer science and keep pace with its global competitors, we need to invest in strengthening STEM education programs and our STEM pipeline throughout the country.

One of the reasons many people in the education community are following immigration reform legislation in Congress is that the bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate and legislation under consideration in the House now include a proposed national STEM education fund.  The fund would be created by additional fees on employers seeking visas and green cards to hire foreign workers in STEM areas.

How will the proposed STEM fund contribute to strengthening the pipeline and address the disparities for women and minorities?

Given the demographic trends of the U.S., we will have to do a better job, not just in creating more STEM graduates, but also in attracting more women and minorities to these fields.

Just 18 percent of undergraduate computing and information science degrees are awarded to women, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. And while Latino, African-Americans and American Indians account for 34 percent of the population between the ages of 18 and 24, they earn just 12 percent of all undergraduate degrees in engineering.

These disparities become all the more challenging when you consider that over recent years, most states have cut their education spending.  And education funding for 35 states this year were below 2008 levels. A substantial nation fund is needed to help states boost their STEM education programs and provide more opportunities for more students, particularly women and minorities, to study in these fields.

The Senate comprehensive immigration bill includes funding for expanded STEM education at colleges and universities that serve minority populations.

What are the implications if this fund is not approved, and what are some alternatives to get the job done?

It’s difficult to overstate the challenge facing our nation on this front, and that’s one of the reasons we see bi-partisan support for a solution.  It is in everyone’s interest – business and education leaders, elected leaders and our students – to produce a workforce able to fill jobs in the rapid-growing STEM fields.

Without a national commitment in this area, the U.S. will continue to lose ground to other nations. Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, notes the Chinese government instituted a “Thousand Talents” as part of a “major push to develop new research universities and to accommodate the demand for millions of new scientists and engineers by high-tech companies in China.”

He rightly notes that America, in order to remain competitive, must have its own Thousand Talents programs.  The world isn’t waiting for the U.S. to catch up; that’s an initiative we’ll have to take all our own.  With comprehensive immigration reform passing in the Senate and negotiations currently taking place in the House, we might be well on the way.