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More failure of US education

Whilst perusing the 6 July 07 issue of Science (why yes, I am a geek), I came across a rather interesting section about undergraduate education. Now, keep in mind that  Science is a journal for scientists, and tends to reflect that in their articles. Of course, they are a peer reviewed international journal, that is recognized as one of the top rags in the business…. Anyway, there are some interesting numbers – not only for the US, but for the world in general.

The first knock-out is some numbers about undergraduate degrees awarded by country, and what percentage of them are in the Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Here’s the data: 

  1. India: 9.2 million degrees, no data on STEM %
  2. China: 4.13 million degrees, no data on STEM %
  3. US: 1.4 Million, 17% STEM (187,000)
  4. Russia: 1.1 Mil., 18% STEM (198,000)
  5. Brazil: 717,858, 12% STEM (86,143)
  6. Australia: 665,526, 22% STEM (146,416)
  7. Japan: 551,000, 25% STEM (137,750)
  8. S. Korea: 328,476, 38.4% STEM (126,135)
  9. U.K.: 315,985: 27.5% STEM (86,896)
  10. France: 155,000, 24.5% STEM (37,975)
  11. S. Africa: 111,000, 27% STEM (29,970)
  12. Austria: 23,500, 27% STEM (6,345)

 There are a couple of things that are kind of scary about these numbers. Take a look at how low the percentages for STEM degrees are. Now stop and think: this population represents the doctor’s, pharmacists, engineers and scientists that will be responsible fro maintaining our health, making sure our planes continue to fly, and ensuring that science and technology continue to advance. Look again at where the degrees are. India and China are the top producers of people with higher education. We don’t have the percentage of them that are getting STEM degrees, but even if it is only 10%, they are producing at least twice as many techies as the US. Wonder why more and more technology seems to come from these countries? Wonder why so many of our high tech jobs are now outsourced to those countries? Think about the billions (and billions) of dollars that are flowing from our economy to theirs as a result of their ability to produce these workers. 

Some other scary thoughts that don’t show in this chart: the number of students pursuing degrees in “STEM” fields is dropping – fast. Not only that, but within the STEM fields, there has been (and continues to be) a strong trend to take the degrees in IT related fields -meaning less mathematics, science and engineering. That’s good as far as trying to keep computer jobs here in the US, but not so good if you expect to need a doctor, or are hoping for advances in any other fields.

This decline in STEM students is already having an effect on the academic world – many universities are cutting their STEM staff – there simply are not enough students to justify maintaining them. While this may sound harmless, keep in mind that almost all of the major research that is done in the US has its roots at research universities – the ‘net came from academia (and the military), the technology that makes this blog possible is a direct outgrowth of academia, the navigation system your car, the DVD player, the flat screen TV are all the results of research that was done at University. The impact of this reduction will probably not be felt much for a while, but in a decade or so, the few STEM students that are graduating today will be in a great position to sell their skills – if the research market hasn’t completely collapsed or headed to India or China. Maybe we should be making sure that our scientists and engineers are taking Chinese as well as chemistry and physics….

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One Response

  1. […] The few US science, technology, engineering and mathematics students that are graduating today will be in a great position to sell their skills. Maybe we should be making sure that our scientists and engineers are taking Chinese as well as chemistry and physics….. (more) […]

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