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Miles to Go....

A couple years ago, a bunch of leading business organizations set an ambitious goal: "Double the number of U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates with bachelor's degrees by 2015."

But as those leaders frankly acknowledged this week, the nation has barely moved toward hitting that mark so far.

The United States produced 223,255 such grads in 2005, and that number had only risen to 225,660 by 2007, reported the members of Tapping America's Potential, the business coalition. That's light years removed from their goal of reaching 400,000 by 2015. Several members of TAP, as they call themselves, assembled at the Washington offices of the Business Roundtable on Tuesday, where they released a report that summed up the situation this way: "Gaining Momentum, Losing Ground."

The nation's overall progress in addressing STEM issues, of keen interest to businesses, is mixed, attendees said. On the one hand, individual STEM initiatives, undertaken by state and local governments, philanthropies, and other organizations, are taking hold across the country. The event this week highlighted a few of them. One such program is the National Math and Science Initiative, a corporate-backed effort to replicate 1) the "U Teach" math and science teacher-training program, and 2) Advanced Placement "incentive" programs, which reward students and teachers for participating in AP. Another discussed was the Ohio STEM Learning Network, backed by the Battelle and Gates foundations, a statewide effort to create STEM-themed schools and raise the skills of the state's workforce.

On the negative side of the ledger, the assembled business leaders pointed to the fact that Congress has not provided funding for many of the STEM-themed programs in the America Competes Act, a bipartisan bill President Bush signed into law last year. It supports the creation and expansion of several teacher-training and -recruitment programs. They were also unhappy that Congress has not backed legislation allowing more skilled immigrants to remain in the United States on H1B visas, a step some corporations regard as crucial to filling high-tech jobs.

Attempts to change that visa policy have been crippled in recent years by rancorous congressional debates over immigration legislation. Attendees at this week's session were not optimistic about their prospects on the H1B issue in the near-term.

"The environment is so toxic," John Castellani, the president of the Business Roundtable, told the group, "it cannot be addressed until after the election."

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