A high-profile push by business groups to double the number of U.S. bachelor's degrees awarded in science, math and engineering by 2015 is falling way behind target, a new report says.
In 2005, 15 prominent business groups warned that a lack of expert workers and teachers posed a threat to U.S. competitiveness, and said the country would need 400,000 new graduates in the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields by 2015.
In an update published Tuesday, the group reports the number of degrees in those fields rose slightly earlier in the decade, citing figures from the years after 2001 that have become available since the first report was published. But the number of degrees has since flattened out at around 225,000 per year.
The coalition, representing groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Defense Industrial Association, said there has been substantial bipartisan support in Washington for boosting science training, including passage last year of the "America Competes Act," which promotes math and science.
But Susan Traiman, director of education and work force policy for the Business Roundtable, an organization of corporate CEOs, said there has been insufficient follow-through with funding to support the programs. Other countries, she said, are doing more to shift incentives toward science training.
"The concern that CEOs have is if we wait for a Sputnik-like event, it's very hard to turn around and get moving on the kind of timeline we would need," said Traiman, referring to the Soviet Union's launch of the first artificial satellite in 1957, which prompted a massive U.S. commitment to science investment.
"It still takes a minimum of 17 years to produce an engineer if you consider K-12 plus four years of colleges," she said.