Education and human resources at the National Science Foundation

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Author: Erich Bloch
Date: Aug. 24, 1990
From: Science(Vol. 249, Issue 4971)
Publisher: American Association for the Advancement of Science
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,701 words

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Education and Human Resources at the National Science Foundation

IT IS NOW WIDELY UNDERSTOOD THAT THE NATION FACES A serious problem in science and engineering education and that we are not mobilizing the human resources we need to compete effectively in the modern world. We know that:

* Our high schools offer too few science and mathematics courses. Those that we do have are of uncertain quality and taught by inadequately supported teachers to too few students. Not surprisingly, one result is that Americans routinely place toward the bottom of the list in international comparisons of student achievement.

* Student interest in science and engineering is declining. Only about 15% of college freshmen plan a major in science or engineering. The number of baccalaureates in these fields is declining, and a demographic decline in the number of college-age students will make the problem worse for most of the 1990s.

* At the end of the pipeline, too few new PhDs are being produced, and an increasing fraction--over 50% in engineering and mathematics--are foreign students. A recent report of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that in areas dependent on mathematics, the demand for engineers, scientists, and technicians is growing about twice as fast as supply and will exceed supply by 35% in the year 2000. And that is not far off--almost everyone who will have a PhD by 2000 is already in college.

* Finally, we have made little progress in bringing women and minorities into science and engineering. Yet minorities are 30% of the student population today, and will be about 40% by 2000. Together with women, these are the groups in which we must find increasing numbers of our future scientists and engineers.

It still surprises some researchers with long relationships with the National Science Foundation to learn that any of this matters to NSF. But, in fact, under the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, education shares equal billing with research as a core mission of the foundation. The foundation has this mission because Congress believes that (i) NSF is the agency most directly concerned with maintaining the flow of graduate students in science and engineering; (ii) NSF can make the connection between researchers and educators in science and engineering better than any other federal agency; and (iii) NSF can lead in such areas as research in education, curriculum development, and teacher training--all areas in which the decentralized efforts of the states and local school systems are inherently less effective. And although there has been wide variation in the level of effort devoted to it, education...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A9389349