Importance of Technical Education

It seems to me…

When considering current U.S. educational policies, the only conclusion I am able to reach is that our political leaders are determined to destroy the very attributes that made our country the envy of the entire world following World War II.  They continue to dig us into a deeper and deeper hole from which it increasingly will be difficult to climb out.  I’ve always heard the advice – when you realize you are digging yourself into a hole, stop digging.  What will it take for them to realize where we are heading?

The primary factors upon which our country’s economic recovery, job creation, and long-term survival are dependent are research and innovation.  Research and innovation, in turn, are dependent upon readily available educated engineers and scientists.

Not only is the overall quality of our educational system in steep decline, we also are producing only a fraction the scientists and engineers we need to maintain our technological position in the world.  A recent Pew study[i] found that only 19 percent of U.S. college presidents consider our system of higher education to be the best in the world.  Is our concentration so focused on achieving balanced budgets that we are willing to sacrifice our nation’s future in the effort?  We already are dependent upon foreign-born scientists and engineers to meet about half our current needs but politicians wish to even further restrict many well-educated and qualified people from being allowed to work here.

Enrollment in science and engineering programs has been dropping in spite of an increasing need.  Studies have shown that about 40 percent of all current scientists are over 50 years old; about 22 percent are over 55.  Only about 4 percent are under 30.  Even if we immediately began a program to encourage increased science and technology enrollment, it would take about 15 years for those graduates to have the necessary experience to replace those retiring.  The math doesn’t work; our politicians are mortgaging our future.

While the number of students graduating with degrees in science and engineering is declining, the overall number of positions requiring degrees in those fields is increasing about 5 percent every year.  Where are qualified people going to come from?

The National Academies in Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly approaching Category 5, National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2010, warned that the U.S. Economy is at risk and innovation will suffer due to poor-quality science education.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) stated in Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America’s Future, Executive Office of the President, Washington, D.C., 2010, that there are “troubling signs” about U.S. STEM education and that “a basic understanding of technology and engineering is important if our children are to contribute to and compete in a rapidly changing society and an increasingly interconnected global community”.

Other countries have significantly increased their number of science and engineering graduates in recent years.  As a direct result of the unavailability of qualified researchers, U.S. companies have been given no choice other than to increase their percentage of research-related position now being conducted overseas.

I have written elsewhere on what we must do to turn around our country’s decline (see https://lewbornmann.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/enhancing-higher-education/, https://lewbornmann.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/education-and-employment/).  Basically, it will take a concerted national effort comparable to what was done following the launch of the Soviet Sputnik.  This time our needs are greater and we are starting from a weaker position.  This time, our leaders must not abandon this priority as was done following our landing on the moon.

We need to increase educational availability so it is possible for students to attend community colleges and a higher percentage of low-skilled workers to be retrained.  The same Pew study previously referenced found that 75 percent of Americans now consider a college education unaffordable.  With fewer employees, everyone is expected to do more, frequently outside their area of expertise or experience.  Cross training benefits everyone – both the employer as well as the employee.

The need is critical; the time to take effective action unfortunately is very short.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[i]Is College Worth It?, Time, 24 May 2011, p16.

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About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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