At the top of the list of challenges to American competitiveness and national security is the lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) graduates in our schools and universities. The U.S. is facing a shortfall of 230,000 STEM jobs because Americans are not earning enough of the requisite degrees to fill those positions. American competitiveness suffers as a result. The U.S. strategy should therefore include hiring more foreign-born workers and finding ways to improve science and math outcomes for U.S. students.
The STEM jobs shortfall problem starts with the education system. The National Science Foundation (NSF) showed that few American 4th graders are proficient at math and none of their average scores reach the “proficient level”. By 12th grade most American students are not at the proficient level in math and science.
These graduates are unfit to fill engineering, science, and technician jobs that the aerospace and defense industry needs to remain on the cutting edge of research, development, and production. Partly due to the education gap, “the STEM activities of the Department of Defense are a small and diminishing part of the nation’s overall science and engineering enterprise.” This is a crisis but the United States has the resources to make its research and development stronger – and the jobs are already there! Teachers should be empowered to offer solutions instead of being blamed for systemic failures, while students should be encouraged to see STEM studies as an exciting potential career path.
ASP has also looked at the link between immigration, American competitiveness, and national security, and identified the H-1B visa program as a means to boost American competitiveness. This visa allows foreign workers with special skills to live and work in the United States.
Hiring foreign workers or foreign students who are graduating with U.S. degrees is good for American workers. There is a multiplier effect – one study concludes that every foreign worker with an advanced U.S. degree adds 2.62 jobs to the American economy.
The U.S. Congress and President Obama are already working out the details of immigration reform. One proposal eliminates the cap of 20,000 visas per year for foreigners who earn U.S. degrees. An alternative proposal would increase the cap on H-1B visas. Policymakers should also take a serious look at how to improve scores in math, science, and engineering among K-12 students. The policy choices we make today will have a direct causal effect on the ability of the United States to maintain its competitive edge in the years to come.
For more information on the topic, look for August Cole’s report on American Competitiveness and the Defense Industrial Base next Tuesday, April 9th!