Magazine article National Defense

Education Trends Portend Trouble for Defense

Magazine article National Defense

Education Trends Portend Trouble for Defense

Article excerpt

The United States in recent decades has seen some troubling trends. One of the most critical is that our schools are producing fewer U.S.-born science and math graduates than countries such as China, Taiwan, South Korea, India and Mexico.

Consider this dismal statistic: According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranks 16th of 27 countries in college-completion rates.

Of every 100 9th graders, only 18 will graduate from college within six years of completing high school. Those rates have barely budged since the 1990s. Of the 18, even fewer will have technical degrees.

The consequences of these developments may not on the surface seem all that damaging given the nation's prosperity and world-class higher education system. But there are reasons to worry about what a shrinking pool of U.S. citizens with technical degrees means, in the long term, for the federal government and, especially, for the Defense Department and its contractors.

Of most concern is that, over time, the majority of qualified science and engineering graduates will not be U.S. citizens and, therefore, will not be eligible for top-secret security clearances that are required to work on the nation's most sensitive military and space programs.

Under the rubric of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), government and private organizations have launched initiatives to try to motivate U.S.-born students to pursue technical degrees.

The Defense Department is at the forefront of these efforts with its National Defense Education Program. The department employs nearly half of all federal physical scientists, mathematicians and engineers. Defense laboratories expect to lose 13,000 scientists and engineers by 2015, while at the same time, demand for scientists is projected to increase by 17 percent, and for engineers by 22 percent.

"There is a long-term downward trend in defense-relevant science and engineering degrees at all levels awarded to personnel who could qualify for the security clearances," says William S. Rees, Jr., deputy undersecretary of defense for laboratories and basic sciences.

An April 2004 National Defense University report, titled "The Science and Engineering Workforce and National Security," warns of the rapidly accelerating accumulation of intellectual capital--including an educated science and engineering workforce--in China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, Rees points out. …

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