A Bill to Watch: Incentives for Undergraduate Science/Math/Eng. Students

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Publication date: 
27 April 2005

"The United States education system must do more to encourage students at every level to study science and mathematics and to pursue careers related to those fields."
- Math and Science Incentive Act of 2005

High profile Members of the House and Senate have introduced legislation providing financial incentives for undergraduate study in mathematics, science or engineering. Under this legislation, the federal government would pay the interest on student loans for undergraduates agreeing to teach science, technology, engineering or mathematics in elementary or secondary schools or who work as a professional in these fields for five years.

At a March 11 hearing of the new House Science, State, Justice and Commerce Appropriations Subcommittee, Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) expressed deep concern about the nation's scientific workforce, and said that he would "like to do something very dramatic" (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/036.html .) Just over a month later, Wolf held a Capitol Hill press conference to announce his introduction of H.R. 1547. In describing his bill, Wolf stated, "America's dominance in science and innovation is slipping. We are facing today a critical shortage of science and engineering students in the United States. Unfortunately, there is little public awareness of this trend or its implications for jobs, industry or national security in America's future. We need to make sure we have people who can fill these science and engineering positions." To make his case Wolf cited patent, Nobel prize, and doctoral degree data, as well as stating, "Published research by Americans is lagging. Physical Review, a series of top physics journals, last year tracked a reversal in which American scientific papers, in two decades, dropped from the most published to minority status. In 2003, - the most recent year statistics are available - the total number of American papers published was just 29 percent, down from 61 percent in 1983."

Joining Wolf at this press conference to announce his sponsorship of a companion bill with almost identical wording was Senator John Warner (R-VA). Their bills would pay up to $10,000 of interest for new undergraduate student loans made under the Higher Education Act of 1965. In return, students would have to complete five consecutive years of service as a teacher of science, technology, engineering or mathematics at an elementary or secondary school, or as a mathematics, science or engineering professional. Failure to complete this requirement would entail the repayment of the interest paid by the government. Students would apply for this benefit in a competitive process under criteria outlined in the legislation. Interest payment by the government would stop if a student earned more than four times the amount of the national per capita disposable income. It is important to note that the House and Senate bills would authorize the establishment of this program, but would not provide the actual funding.

H.R. 1547 currently has six sponsors/cosponsors: Wolf, Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Virgil Goode (R-VA), Randy Kuhl (R-NY), and Michael McCaul (R-TX), and is now before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The Senate bill, S. 765 has five sponsors/cosponsors: Warner, Daniel Akaka (D-HI), George Allen (R-VA), Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and is pending before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

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