Public Comment Sought on NSB S&E Workforce Report

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Publication date: 
17 June 2003

It is "imperative that the Federal Government reassess its role and step forward with an aggressive effort to better prepare the Nation's S&E workforce," declares a new draft report by the National Science Board (NSB). Echoing several other recent reports, the NSB report warns of an impending crisis for the nation's science and engineering (S&E) enterprise if projections about S&E job growth, current workforce retirement rates, the number of American students pursuing S&E careers, and international competition for foreign S&E workers prove true.

The NSB is still seeking public comments on its report, which calls for a greater federal role - accompanied by increased federal resources - in preparing the S&E workers of the future. The Board recommends the following National Policy Imperative: "The Federal Government and its agencies must step forward to ensure the adequacy of the US science and engineering workforce. All stakeholders must mobilize and initiate efforts that increase the number of US citizens pursuing science and engineering studies and careers."

The draft report, by the Task Force on National Workforce Policies for Science and Engineering, can be found on the NSB web site at: , and IS OPEN FOR PUBLIC COMMENT UNTIL JULY 1, 2003. COMMENTS SHOULD BE EMAILED TO: nsbcomments [at] .

The report points out that while the federal government has played a major role in supporting graduate S&E education, undergraduate education has largely been the responsibility of states and localities. The report also finds that while the US S&E enterprise "has always benefitted from foreign science and engineering talent," the "level of dependence on foreign-born students and professionals...has become problematic." It anticipates increased global competition for S&E workers "at a time when demand for their skills is projected to rise significantly." The NSB also expects that "the number of native-born S&E graduates entering the workforce is likely to decline unless the Nation intervenes to improve success in educating S&E students from all demographic groups, especially those that have been underrepresented in S&E careers." The report warns that its recommendations "will require increased Federal resources commensurate with the role and planned contribution of each [federal] agency." It is of note that some of the suggested actions, such as increasing graduate student stipends, encouraging collaboration between schools of education and university science and math departments, and providing scholarships to attract students to S&E careers, are already being planned or implemented by the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies.

The report's recommendations, along with selected explanatory text, follow:

UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING: "The Federal Government must direct substantial new support to students and institutions in order to improve success in S&E study by American undergraduates from all demographic groups." Government actions should include providing scholarships and other financial assistance; encouraging institutions to improve programs in S&E areas where degree production is insufficient; providing financial support to help community colleges increase students' success in transferring to four-year S&E programs; and expanding funding to programs that are successful in graduating underrepresented minorities and women in S&E fields. The report adds that "research on the reason why able students switch out of S&E majors concludes that improvement in the yield of S&E majors will require modification of the educational environment, particularly for improved retention of underrepresented minorities and women."

ADVANCED EDUCATION IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING: "Federal support for research and graduate education should respond to the real economic needs of students and promote a wider range of educational options responsive to national skill needs." The report calls for competitive federal graduate and postdoctoral stipends that include benefits; innovative approaches to higher education that prepare students for a broad range of careers; and consistent, long-term federal support for high-quality disciplinary and interdisciplinary S&E doctoral programs.

The report recognizes the opportunity costs to students pursuing an advanced education in S&E fields, and notes that "attracting more US students to enroll in and complete graduate training depends in part on their expectations that investment in science or engineering education will be rewarded by careers employing the skills they acquire." It also acknowledges that "targeted interventions to ensure the supply of scientists and engineers in specific fields may miss the mark."

PRECOLLEGE TEACHING WORKFORCE FOR MATHEMATICS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: "In partnership with other stakeholders, the Federal Government should act now to attract and retain an adequate cadre of well-qualified precollege teachers of mathematics, science and technology." The report urges compensation of teachers at a level comparable to that of other S&E professionals; reinforcement of teaching as an important career and an integral part of the S&E professions; and expedited certification of S&E professionals as teachers. It calls for support of teacher preparation programs that bring together science and engineering departments with schools of education, efforts by S&E professionals to assist and improve K-12 education, and research on learning in science and mathematics.

US ENGAGEMENT IN THE INTERNATIONAL S&E WORKFORCE: Especially as visa and other policies on foreign scientists and students are reexamined, the report says, "it is essential that future US policies: strengthen the capacity of US research universities to sustain their leadership role in increasingly competitive international S&E education; strongly support opportunities for American students and faculty to participate in international S&E education and research; [and] maintain the ability of the US to attract internationally competitive researchers, faculty, and students, while accommodating national security concerns."

KNOWLEDGE BASE ON THE S&E WORKFORCE: "To support development of effective S&E workforce policies and strategies, the Federal Government must: substantially raise its investment in research that advances the state of knowledge on international S&E workforce dynamics; [and] lead a national effort to build a base of information on: the current status of the S&E workforce; national S&E skill needs; [and] strategies that attract high-ability students and professionals to S&E careers."

"Production and employment of scientists and engineers are not well understood as a system," the report states; "Federal policies and strategies for interventions in the workforce must be sensitive not only to impacts on areas targeted for intervention, but also to other impacts on broader workforce capabilities."