Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Empty Promises in the STEM Fields: Employer Efforts to Diversify Science and Engineering Workforce at Odds with Public Policies

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Empty Promises in the STEM Fields: Employer Efforts to Diversify Science and Engineering Workforce at Odds with Public Policies

Article excerpt

Are efforts to broaden diversity leading to empty promises of increased employment opportunities in science and engineering? The U.S. Government has been promoting and funding programs since the 1980s to increase the number of American women, underrepresented minorities and persons with disabilities in the nation's science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce.

However, industry has been steadily outsourcing STEM jobs and importing STEM talent from other countries through the increasing use of immigration visa programs. This raises an important question: To what extent has or will this practice of getting STEM talent as expeditiously as possible from elsewhere take away from jobs that Americans can and want to fill--especially African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, who have been traditionally underrepresented in the STEM workforce?

Recognizing the declining number of American scientists and engineers, Congress enacted the Science and Engineering Opportunities Act in 1980. The act authorized the National Science Foundation (NSF) to undertake or support a comprehensive science education program to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in the STEM workforce. Since then, NSF and other federal agencies have supported broadening diversity programs for these underrepresented groups and have invested billions of dollars in education programs at K-12 schools in urban and rural areas, minority-serving institutions of higher education and post-graduate training programs. Most recently, for example, federally funded National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grants have become available to low-income college juniors and seniors majoring in a STEM discipline or a critical need foreign language.

In the book, Rasing Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Future the National Academies recommends that importing talent from other countries be a short-term fix to boost our pool of scientists and engineers. It is the Academies' view that the United States should import STEM talent from throughout the world, and that doing so would have minimal effect on STEM jobs for Americans, especially for doctorate-level workers. But, what about the growing number of graduates with a bachelor's or master's degree in science or engineering? While an emphasis on quickly recruiting talent from overseas may address some of our immediate workforce needs, the strategy ignores the potential long-term effects on employment opportunities for those currently underrepresented groups in the STEM fields. …

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