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Obama Boosts STEM in New Budget


Welcoming young scientists at the third White House Science Fair, President Obama announced his plan (initially proposed in his 2014 budget request) to drastically increase funding and support for STEM education initiatives. The New York Times reports:

 According to a summary in his 2014 budget request, Mr. Obama has designated $180 million for programs to increase opportunities for participation in STEM programs, from kindergarten through graduate school, for groups historically underrepresented in those fields.

An additional $265 million would be directed to support networks of school districts, universities, science agencies, museums, businesses and other educational entities focused on STEM education, and to finance the creation of a corps of master teachers. Of that, $80 million would go toward furthering the president’s goal of adding 100,000 math and science teachers over a decade.

This is the kind of thing we like to see. Faced with a dearth of qualified American workers, companies are racing to bring in foreigners skilled in STEM fields. But their efforts have largely been blocked by tight immigration policies for skilled workers. This year, the 85,000 cap of foreign work visas was reached in less than a week. And thousands of STEM jobs remain unfilled. In fact, while there are 3.6 unemployed workers for every available job in the country, there is only one unemployed STEM worker for every two open STEM jobs.

Meanwhile, STEM graduates fare much better than other college grads: nearly half of all college grads are underemployed, 13.4 million of whom work for hourly pay. Sixty-five percent of STEM graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn a higher wage than their counterparts with Master’s degrees in other fields.

With so many available jobs, a strong financial incentive to train for them, and little competition from foreign workers, why aren’t American students flocking to STEM fields? The problem seems to begin before college; many college professors complain that students enter their programs woefully unprepared for the rigors of college level coursework in technical studies. As a result, nearly half of high school students who go on to major in engineering drop out or switch to another program.

If the President’s budget proposal can somehow boost the STEM knowledge base of K-12 students and increase the numbers of qualified American STEM workers, it would be a worthy investment.

[Chalkboard image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Anthony

    “If the President’s budget proposal can somehow boost the STEM knowledge base of K-12 students and increase the numbers of qualified American STEM workers, it would be a worthy investment” speaks directly to issue. Success for STEM student begins early in academic preparation – content is skill and skill content.

  • Luke Lea

    Instead of spending more on education it might make more sense to increase the wages of workers in those fields — by, for example, limiting the number of HB-1 visas. It’s always about supply and demand.

    • Clayton Holbrook

      Why would we limit skilled worker visas and artificially increase wages? The gov’t doesn’t need to protect domestic workers, it needs to focus on making those workers more skilled in STEM fields.

  • NoNewt

    Immigration should be reorganized around skills and merit, with a transparent, points-based system in place and open to anyone from anywhere in the world. This would help us realize unrealized GDP potential by filling the open STEM jobs – and it would result in immigration that lifts median education and income levels (i.e., immigration that’s actually good for the country overall).

    Unfortunately, Rubio & Co. seem to entrench the current, broken system that emphasizes low-skilled labor, law-breaking and chain/family migration.

    Not only will we not benefit from attracting the best foreign STEM brains, we’ll continue bringing in more manual laborers. Epic fail.

    • LivingRock

      I agree with your first paragraph. STEM immigrants do the country as whole
      well. And I’m leery of amnesty, but see little choice in regards to that matter; they’re here and not leaving so let’s make them legal.

      But the Gang of 8, including Rubio, has proposed that the number of H-1B visas be increased to 110,000, thereby increasing STEM immigrants. The proposal also allots for up to 10,000 new “start up” visas for foreign entrepreneurs who create a minimum of five jobs and raise a half million dollars from investors.

      Lots of high skilled labor changes that makes the “emphasizes low-skilled labor, law-breaking and chain/family migration.” statement not entirely accurate imho.

  • jimbopa

    “…programs to increase opportunities for participation in STEM programs, from kindergarten through graduate school, for groups historically underrepresented in those fields.”

    Or we could maybe try to increase the number of of people who traditionally are interested in this field. Maybe back up to the levels that they were at in the past.

    Nah, can’t have that

  • Fat_Man

    Study: There may not be a shortage of American STEM graduates after all
    By Jia Lynn Yang, Published: April 24

    A study released Wednesday by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute reinforces what a number of researchers have come to believe: that the STEM worker shortage is a myth.

    The EPI study found that the United States has “more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations.” Basic dynamics of supply and demand would dictate that if there were a domestic labor shortage, wages should have risen. Instead, researchers found, they’ve been flat, with many Americans holding STEM degrees unable to enter the field and a sharply higher share of foreign workers taking jobs in the information technology industry. (IT jobs make up 59 percent of the STEM workforce, according to the study.)

    The EPI study said that while the overall number of U.S. students who earn STEM degrees is small … they have a surprisingly hard time finding work. Only half of the students graduating from college with a STEM degree are hired into a STEM job, the study said.

    The picture is not that bright for computer science students, either. “For computer science graduates employed one year after graduation . . . about half of those who took a job outside of IT say they did so because the career prospects were better elsewhere, and roughly a third because they couldn’t find a job in IT,” the study said.

    But some worry that the more H-1Bs allowed into the system, the more domestic workers get crowded out, resulting in what no one appears to want: fewer American students seeing much promise in entering STEM fields.

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