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U.S. Scientist and Engineer Supply as Strong as Ever: A New Study Finds

2 November 2009 15,052 4 Comments

There is widespread fear that US is not preparing enough talents in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) while its global competitors, such as China and India, are producing a lot more engineers and scientists. And this fear has been used to fuel investment in STEM education in the United States.  For example, a report produced by the National Academies of Sciences at the request of Congress in 2005 and published in 2007 (with a revision in 2008) says that “Last year more than 600,000 engineers graduated from institutions of higher education in China. In India, the figure was 350,000. In America, it was about 70,000.” The report, entitled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future,” thus recommends the federal government invest more in STEM education in schools and universities, among other things.

I have argued that this fear is based on misunderstanding and misinterpretation of data in my book. And here is more evidence.

Last week, a comprehensive study based on analysis of major longitudinal datasets found “U.S. colleges and universities are graduating as many scientists and engineers as ever before.”  The study was conducted by a group of researchers at Georgetown University, Rutgers University, and the Urban Institute. “Our findings indicate that STEM retention along the pipeline shows strong and even increasing rates of retention from the 1970s to the late 1990s,” says the report. However, not all STEM graduates enter the STEM field. They are attracted to other areas.

“Over the past decade, U.S. colleges and universities graduated roughly three times more scientists and engineers than were employed in the growing science and engineering workforce,” one of the study’s co-author Lindsay Lowell was quoted in the study’s press release, “At the same time, more of the very best students are attracted to non-science occupations, such as finance. Even so, there is no evidence of a long-term decline in the proportion of American students with the relevant training and qualifications to pursue STEM jobs.”

Earlier studies by the same authors also “found that the U.S. education system produces large numbers of top-performing science and math students.”

Read the report here:

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  • Chris Tienken said:

    This is yet another example that debunks the current set of ed reforms taking place in this country. The concern about not enough STEM graduates was flawed from the beginning because it was a supply-side argument – very few people actually looked at the demand. The demand for these people is not as strong as the supply-siders would have us think. It is interesting to look at the US Department of Labor stats for the fastest growing jobs AND the jobs predicted to employ the greatest number of people by 2016-2020. STEM is not well represented on those lists. The supply-side STEM argument is partially a covert attempt to ease wage pressure in those fields. That is the real issue – the fact that those types of STEM positions pay much less oversees than in the US. If there is an over supply of STEM in the US (large over supply) wage pressure begins to ease. This has very little to do with not having enough qualified STEM folks and more to do with profit margins. Thanks for sharing this important report.

  • Jack said:

    Ya, I appreciate this post. U.S. Scientist and Engineer Supply as Strong as Ever a new study finds. I read Many story about USA scientist and Engineer.
    that’s great.
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  • Marvin McConoughey said:

    Commentator Chris Tienken is right that “The supply-side STEM argument is partially a covert attempt to ease wage pressure in those fields.” Unless we do ease high tech wage pressures, U.S. firms will continue to outsource jobs to overseas locations. Put bluntly, we Americans can no longer viably expect the huge wage advantages that we enjoyed during our long post WWII boom.

    A second factor is the need to recognize that we must generate many more STEM graduates than there are similarly titled job openings. The reasons are several. Some graduates in any field are, simply, not going to succeed. Some fall ill, others have personality problems, drug and alcohol problems, etc. Not all will keep up with the pace of change in their fields.

    One of China’s advantages is that it has placed many with high tech skills into leadership positions. I believe that action has significantly helped propel China’s phenomenal growth rate. We are weak in assigning leadership positions to our STEM population.

    Finally, I agree that STEM skills are not well represented on projections of the fastest growing jobs. In this case, our increasing reliance on technology imports will, if not stopped, continue to erode domestic job opportunities for STEM skills. The price will be a continuation of massive trade deficits with resultant erosion of living standards.

    We need to increase STEM skill production, much as conventional wisdom asserts.

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