Monday, July 2, 2007

Engineering Pipeline Runs Dry

The United States got a bad report card recently, when it ranked 24th in math out of 29 industrialized nations (for 15-year-old students), and science skills also fell below the 29-nation average.

These scores are a wake-up call to anyone concerned about America's economic future. The shift over the last generation has been startling. In 1975, the United States ranked among the top three industrialized nations for the percentage of 24-year-olds holding bachelor's degrees in sciences and engineering. Since then, 12 countries ranging from Ireland to South Korea have leapfrogged the United States on this score.Some experts blame an entertainment-driven culture in which science delivers no inspirational voice. To counter this, companies like defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. have established "pipeline" programs with U.S. universities, high schools and even junior high and grade schools to encourage more American students to study engineering. Northrop has also put more resources in apprenticeship and internship programs.Others explore Videogames as a catalyst to making science and engineering relevant (see

Raytheon invests in entertainment-laden school-based programs like MathMovesU.

Thus far, the efforts haven't been very effective. In 2003, there were 91,000 engineering students in programs in master's programs, but by 2005 that number had dropped to 83,000, according to the American Society for Engineering Education. U.S. needs 135,000 new computer professionals a year, but our universities are producing only 49,000 computer-science graduates annually. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the need for science and engineering graduates will grow 26% to 1.25 million by 2012, but the number of graduates in those fields has remained relatively flat for two decades.

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