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The Pipeline: Still Leaking

Fiona Goodchild

Late in 2003 the National Science Board released a new report, Realizing America's Potential, calling for national attention to the future of the country's science and engineering workforce. The report advocates national workforce policies to address "the potential peril to U.S. strength in science and engineering" and argues that the nation's scientific enterprise is threatened by declining participation by native-born students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There are not going to be enough skilled practitioners, research scientists and educators, warns the NSB, to fill the growing number of occupations in science and engineering.

Figure 1. <em>Realizing America's Potential,</em> . . .Click to Enlarge Image

The report is timely, since changes in immigration law are already affecting the supply of qualified personnel who can work in the United States. Historically the U.S. has benefited from the contributions of scientists, engineers and graduate students from other countries. This solution to national needs looks less and less promising as other countries develop their research and development enterprises. The NSB includes science teachers in the workforce, highlighting the need to recruit more scientifically and mathematically trained graduates into education.

As I read through the report's introduction, I experienced twinges of déjà vu. This is where I came in. I started working in science education in the U.S. in 1990, the year that Richard Atkinson chose to talk about the Supply and Demand for Scientists and Engineers in his presidential address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in New Orleans. I saw those ubiquitous charts depicting the pipeline of potential science and engineering students that started at 4 million students and dwindled to 9,700 (0.24 percent) who were expected to achieve a Ph.D. in science or engineering. That rate of completion was judged to result in a serious shortfall in workforce numbers. The National Science Foundation was setting up a Division of Education and Human Resources and launching a new effort to integrate research science and education.

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