A new data release by the Census Bureau which claims that only 26 percent of STEM workers end up in STEM fields has seemingly strengthened arguments that America does not face a STEM-worker shortage. The surprising statistic has generated coverage from major news sources (including the USA Today and the Washington Post) which have pounced on the new data as evidence that there is no need to encourage students to study science, technology, engineering, and math. The data, however, is highly misleading and skews the reality of demand for and scarcity of a highly skilled math and engineering workforce.
First, let’s start with the definition of STEM graduates. To the Census Bureau, that means not just individuals with a degree in computers, math, statistics, engineering, biology, or the physical sciences (what the average person thinks of when they STEM) but also psychology and social sciences like economics and anthropology.
While psychology and social sciences graduates do technically study science in the respect that academic research in these fields attempt to rigorously and empirically tests hypotheses using the scientific method, these fields are a far cry from what readers imagine … Read the rest
University spinoffs more innovative, more successful than comparable firms
A new working paper by Swedish economist Andreas Stephan asks whether startups that were born as spinoffs from public universities are more innovative than similar, non-spinoff firms. Using a 2004 survey of East-German firms, Stephan compares the innovativeness of firms as measured by their patent applications and the originality of their patents. Even compared to firms of a similar age, industry, and location, the paper finds that university spinoffs do a better job of innovating.
The obvious lesson here for economic policy is that universities are studying useful things, and that we should have policies that encourage their transition from academic papers to real-world businesses. Business incubation has been on the U.S. national agenda for decades—since at least the passing of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act—but there is much more that we can do.
For instance, Stephan finds that spinoff firms were more successful due to their collaboration, their proximity to universities, and their ability to get public research grant funding. All three of these traits are easy to translate into policy. Stephan also notes that even those firms that were … Read the rest
I have just finished a fascinating book about the history of phone hacking from the 1950s to the 1980s, Exploding the Phone by Phil Lapsley. The phone system was one of the first communications networks in America, and as such, just like today, it attracted its share of amateur hobbiests who wanted to understand how it worked, including finding out how to make free long distance calls, conferences calls and the like. While Apple founder Steve Wosniack may have been the first to create a “blue box” using digital instead of analogue technology (a blue box is the term for an electronic box made to mimic sounds on the phone system in order to trick the phone network into doing what the user wanted) he was hardly the first young person to “hack” the phone system. It turns out that a whole network of folks—what became known as Phone Phreaks emerged, and many became loosely tied into a network that compared notes on best practices. Some were high school students bored with school and fascinated with telephony, others college students also bored with classes. Several of the most prominent were … Read the rest
It appears that Congress may actually take up the issue of immigration reform and with it the issue of high-skill immigration. And toward that end Senators Hatch (R-UT), Klobuchar (D-MN), Rubio (R-FL) and Coons (D-DE) have taken the lead on the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 (known as I-squared) which would make it easier for foreign science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students and workers to come and stay in America, while at the same time raising increased funds from the U.S. high-tech industry to support programs to help train Americans in STEM skills.
And not surprisingly this common sense and needed legislative proposal has provoked the usual opposition from the some on the left. Take Ross Eisenbrey’s recent New York Times op-ed, “America’s Genius Glut.” Eisenbrey, of the liberal Economic Policy Institute, argues that I-squared is not needed, because, he claims: 1) America’s technology leadership is not endangered; 2) We aren’t turning away foreign students, or forcing them to leave once they’ve graduated.; and most importantly 3) there is no labor shortage in high-tech occupations. Let me address these fallacies of each of these arguments.
America’s technology leadership … Read the rest
One of the best Kurt Vonnegut short stories is “Harrison Bergeron,” which pictured a dystopian future in which social equality was achieved by handicapping the more intelligent, athletic, beautiful, or capable members of society. Ballerinas had to wear lead weights, and the most intellectually gifted had to wear headphones that played distracting noises every thirty seconds, carry three hundred pounds of weight strapped to their bodies, and wear distorting eyeglasses designed to give them headaches. It was only then that true equality could be achieved. Just like the Handicapper General in Vonnegut’s story, whose duty it was to impose handicaps so that no one would feel inferior to anyone else. Is America going down this same road? As my colleague Stephen Ezell and I argued in our new book Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage, America has “developed a perverse egalitarianism and anti-elitism that bodes ill, for it means that efforts to enable excellence—whether it’s private toll lanes or high schools for those gifted in math and science—are branded as antidemocratic and elitist.”
Math and science education is critical for our nation’s future. As we noted in our … Read the rest
More often than is warranted, Washington embraces consensus positions based on the view “we all know this to be true.” One of these is “well, while K-12 education is a mess, we all know that American higher education is the best.” There is increasing evidence the last half of this consensus view is not true.
The latest evidence of this is an article in today’s Washington Post that relies on data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) showing today’s college students spend about 40 percent less time studying than they did a half century ago. While everyone focuses on getting 6 years olds to spend every waking moment doing homework and giving up summer vacations so they can go to school (a great idea if we want to rob children of childhood), we are going in the opposite direction when it comes to college.
As I wrote in a blog on Huffington Post, “The Failure of American Higher Education,” American higher education is no longer adequately educating students – not just on STEM as we have written about, but on the broad capabilities of being … Read the rest
My Free Unauthorized Use, Trespass, Conversion and Misappropriation Summer Vacation: Don’t Worry It’s Not Stealing
My wife and I are in the saving money mode since unfortunately our son is likely to go to some pricey liberal arts college next year and sock us with a huge bill. But we don’t want to give up on our summer vacation. After all we deserve to have fun too. So after reading The New York Times op-ed by law professor Stuart P. Green entitled “When Stealing Isn’t Stealing” I came up with an idea, that if I say so myself, is brilliant. I will have a vacation based on unauthorized use, trespass, conversion and misappropriation, since according to Green, it’s no longer stealing when I use non-rival, intangible goods (e.g., when I download movies, video games, software, books, music, etc., without paying for them). It’s unauthorized use, trespass, conversion and misappropriation.
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Some of the country’s most promising young scientists, in Washington this week to be honored at the White House, offered some useful insights for policymakers about the nation’s science innovation ecosystem: 1) The United States has a lot going for it– fine universities and talented, curious and innovative people eager to bring about monumental transformations, 2) Government funding is critical– often the only source for basic research and 3) Scale back on item #2 and you compromise #1.
At a press roundtable today recipients of Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) were unanimous in saying a steady and consistent funding stream helps maintain the country’s brain power and world class R&D infrastructure. It also begins a process that can lead to successful commercialization of ideas and discoveries.
Michael Escuti, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University, affirmed that money he has received from the National Science Foundation has leveraged private capital and led to a small business startup. His has pioneered the development of liquid crystal “polarization gratings” which could have a wide array of applications from battlefield communications to advanced cameras.… Read the rest
On this day in 1957, the Soviet Union deployed Sputnik. The two-foot, 180-pound orb’s beeping was the starting gun of the space race and we in the U.S. seemed to be just putting our sneakers on. Despite President Eisenhower’s initial shrug, America freaked out – but in good way.
In under a year, a Democratic Congress and the Republican President created and made operational the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The National Defense Education Act, which not only jump started higher education in math and science here but also promoted the study of countries we realized were gaining on us, became law. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) came into being. Later, of course, it became (Defense) DARPA, which yielded numerous technological advances, including what became the Internet.
When it came to being #1 in space, we didn’t wait for market forces to work their magic. In a speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962 President Kennedy said the tripling of the space budget in a little over two years was worth it. There were new jobs, new companies and new discoveries. We were in the race but … Read the rest
Whenever there is a conversation in Washington about competitiveness you can almost guarantee that it will quickly default to “fixing K-12.” And usually along the way someone makes the statement, “We all know that K-12 is broken, but thank God the United States has the best higher education system in the world. But as I argued last year in a post “The Failure of American Higher Education,” we don’t. I argued that there was disturbing evidence that many colleges were failing to adequately educate their charges. I cited findings from national tests that showed that among recent graduates of four-year colleges, just 34, 38 and 40 percent were proficient in prose, document, and quantitative literacy, respectively.
Now a new book reinforces these findings. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Professors Richard Arum and Jospipa Roksa, argues that many students now get through college taking easy courses, doing little homework (50 percent less than students did in the 1960s), and failing to learn key skills. The book is based on a study by Arum that showed that in their first two years of college, 45 percent … Read the rest