Winning the Race 2012 Memos: STEM Skills

Robert D. Atkinson October 15, 2012
October 15, 2012
As the 2012 presidential campaign moves in the final stage, ITIF is presenting general principles and specific recommendations across several policy areas.

Skills, particularly science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), are key enablers of innovation and productivity. But the United States lags in the ability to field a globally competitive technical workforce.

In 2008, three times more students took the Art History AP test than the Computer Science AB AP test. Half of U.S. STEM doctoral degrees are awarded to non-U.S. residents. Over the last two decades STEM jobs have grown approximately 75 percent faster than STEM degrees, with the gap being filled by immigrants. And there is also a shortage of skilled technicians.

Companies can play some role in meeting these needs, but with increased pressures for shortterm profits and reduced job tenure, corporate funding for workforce training has fallen by half as a share of GDP in the last decade. K-12 schools and colleges do not graduate enough qualified STEM workers and technicians. And our high-skill immigration system is not meeting the needs of employers. As such, we need new approaches to winning the skills race.

Unfortunately, our politics impedes progress. Elements in both parties see high-skill immigration as a threat. Moreover, many Republicans want to limit the federal investment in STEM education and technical training, while many Democrats resist disruptive, but needed educational innovations like school vouchers and shifting workforce training dollars to employers.