STEM fund key to U.S. global competitiveness


Businesses, education groups and advocacy organizations have been following the progress of the legislation, but every state and virtually every community has a vested interest in the outcome as well.  Last week in Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell and the state’s STEM Council issued their second annual report on STEM education in Delaware schools.

One of the report’s findings illustrates a challenge we face nationally – for every unemployed person in Delaware, there are 3.8 open jobs in STEM fields.  And for every non-STEM job there are 1.7 people in the state.

It isn’t advanced math, but for anyone struggling with the equation, Gov. Markell summed it up neatly: “If you’re in the STEM fields, take your pick.  If you’re not in the STEM fields, join the line.  To succeed in the brave new world, my top priority is making sure our education system prepares our students.”

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The governor may have oversimplified the state of affairs for effect, but his priorities are no different from those of the nation’s elected leaders, and those common priorities likely explain why the national STEM education fund enjoys bipartisan support in Congress.

The STEM fund, in the hopes of its supporters in Congress, business and among education advocates, will help provide a long-term solution to the nation’s STEM jobs gap by strengthening our STEM education pipeline.  A stark demonstration of the depth of the crisis appeared in early April when the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services opened the application window for H-1B visas, which companies use to hire foreign high-skill workers to fill vacant positions in the U.S.  The visas were exhausted within five days; the previous year, it took 10 weeks to meet the demand for those visas.

And while the nation does not currently produce enough workers trained in STEM fields, the problem if not addressed will continue to worsen, affecting U.S. global competitiveness and the nation’s standing as a leader in innovation.  One study projects that future STEM jobs will be in high demand, but also notes that technological changes in other occupations means that other fields will also be recruiting STEM talent.

“STEM occupations will grow far more quickly than the economy as a whole (17 percent versus 10 percent), and will be the second-fastest growing occupational cluster, after Healthcare occupations,” according to a report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

The researchers also project 2.4 million jobs openings in STEM fields by 2018, with 1.1 million new jobs and 1.3 million openings created by workers who leave the workforce.

The report says: “America’s economic success will be driven by our ability to maintain a competitive advantage in technology and knowledge based industries.  A commitment to STEM education funding within immigration reform efforts now underway will help ensure that we produce the skilled workers we need for the future.  From Dover to Dubuque, every community and school system in the country has a vested interest in meeting this challenge.”

Sununu is a former Republican senator from New Hampshire and the son of the former New Hampshire governor. Cardona, a Democrat, is a former adviser to the 2008 Hilliary Clinton presidential campaign. They are co-chairs of inSPIRE STEM USA.