Ever since the National Academy of Engineering released its watershed report on globalization, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," in 2005, conventional wisdom has held that there is a shortage of U.S. engineers, and that American students are falling behind in math and science.
A new study published by the Washington-based Urban Institute challenges those assumptions, arguing that U.S. math and science test scores are in fact better than previously thought. Its most controversial finding, however, is that there are plenty of U.S. engineering graduates but too few jobs. That assertion was challenged during a recent debate on the report's conclusions, held at the Urban Institute.
Regardless of the debate's outcome, the Urban Institute's study will likely serve as a lightning rod, as policy makers decide how to implement legislation to maintain U.S. competitiveness, a subject EE Times explores in-depth this week (see page 1).
If nothing else, the latest research on math and science education raises vital issues about the current state of U.S. engineering education, and where and how to commit limited budget resources.
A growing part of the U.S. education debate is about equity. Some observers believe that too much attention has been paid to students at the tip of the education pyramid, and not nearly enough to those in the middle or at the bottom. The issue of equity must be addressed so that the widening gap between the poor, the uneducated and the more privileged American students can be closed.
Not only must America's education gap be closed, but today's workers must be retrained. Life-long learning is likely the only way many of us will be able to hang onto our jobs and prosper in our careers. Proposals to establish "life-long learning accounts" designed to help fund retraining efforts should be an integral part of the implementation of the America Competes Act enacted by Congress and signed into law by President George Bush.
Education is the key to innovation, and innovation will generate wealth that will keep the U.S. economy strong and competitive. The issue of equity in education must therefore be resolved in the ongoing debate over the state of American engineering education. The failure to do so could mean the end of America's unprecedented post-War prosperity.
As one Chinese-born engineering professor now teaching at George Washington University told last week's conference at the Urban Institute: "In 50 years, I don't worry about China. I worry about the United States."