Memo to Governor Christie: Time to Shut Down Rutgers University

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For a long time, I and many other Washington tech policy types believed that our nation faced a shortfall in the number of highly skilled scientists and engineers (e.g., the STEM workforce) and that this shortfall hurt U.S. innovation and competitiveness.  But as Keynes once said when asked why he changed his mind, “when the facts change, I change my mind, what do you do sir.” So I am grateful to Rutgers professor Hal Salzman for pointing out the error of my thinking.

Salzman tells us that only one out of four STEM graduates works in their field (it’s actually 1 out of 2 and he knows this). He tells us wages for STEM workers have been flat for the last 16 years (STEM wages actually increased about twice as fast as non-STEM wages). He tells us that engineering colleges produce 50 percent more graduates that are hired into engineering jobs each year (actually its one to one, not 1.5 to one). He tells us that IT employment is below its 2002-2003 peak (actually between 2003 and 2010 IT workers grew by 19 percent while total employment fell by 0.8%). He tells us that there are more STEM graduates than jobs (in fact there are two STEM job openings for every unemployed worker with a STEM degree). For Salzman all this excess production of talent does is drive down the wages of hard working scientists and engineers (who make $300,000 more over a career than non-STEM workers).

Given that Professor Salzman has cleared up this debate and shown that we have too many, not too few STEM workers, I think it’s time for policy makers to act on his insights. After all, the goal of economic policy should be to redistribute income from working Americans without a college degree to those with a college degree, ideally a graduate degree. So, the first place to start is at the root of the problem: all the colleges and universities that persist in graduating STEM students. And given that Salzman has been courageous enough to buck the inside the beltway conventional wisdom, it’s only right to start this needed reform in his own backyard.  Rutgers University is one of the nations’ leading research universities. It ranks 40th in expenditures on scientific research and 40th in the number of STEM PhDs. So if we want to solve the STEM surplus problem it’s time to start shutting down research universities, starting with Rutgers. If each state did their part and shut down their leading research university, who knows, the wage premium for STEM workers might increase to three times higher than non-STEM wages instead of a paltry twice as high.

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About the author

Dr. Robert D. Atkinson is one of the country’s foremost thinkers on innovation economics. With has an extensive background in technology policy, he has conducted ground-breaking research projects on technology and innovation, is a valued adviser to state and national policy makers, and a popular speaker on innovation policy nationally and internationally. He is the author of "Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage" (Yale, forthcoming) and "The Past and Future of America’s Economy: Long Waves of Innovation That Power Cycles of Growth" (Edward Elgar, 2005). Before coming to ITIF, Atkinson was Vice President of the Progressive Policy Institute and Director of PPI’s Technology & New Economy Project. Ars Technica listed Atkinson as one of 2009’s Tech Policy People to Watch. He has testified before a number of committees in Congress and has appeared in various media outlets including CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, NPR, and NBC Nightly News. He received his Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1989.