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Is There a STEM Shortage?

At the third White House Science Fair held on Apr. 22, President Obama urged more students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He did so in the belief that schools are not producing sufficient graduates in the field. To address the alleged shortage, he proposed $80 million to add 100,000 math and science teachers over the next decade ("A Presidential Pat for Young Scientists," The New York Times, Apr. 23).

I encourage all students with an interest in STEM to follow their dream. But it's important to make it clear to them at the outset that majoring in the field in college is no assurance of a well paying job. Despite what companies claim, there is no shortage of STEM workers in this country, according to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute ("High-Skilled Guest Workers Lower U.S. Wages, Study Finds," The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 25).

If this is the case, why do companies claim otherwise? It's a matter of keeping the cost of labor as low as possible. Workers with H1-B visas are willing to accept lower salaries than their American counterparts. What better way to achieve their goal of low labor costs than to perpetuate the myth that they can't find enough skilled workers domestically?

Although the EPI is accused of having close ties to labor unions, I believe its research stands up to scrutiny. If I'm right, what are the implications for K-12? First and foremost, K-12 schools are doing better than their critics charge. This is seen in the number of high school graduates who specialize in STEM in college. They must have learned something about the field while they were in high school or they wouldn't be admitted to STEM majors in college in such numbers. The problem, therefore, is not the supply of STEM graduates but the demand for them. What good does it do the country if more and more STEM workers can't find jobs in line with their qualifications? And what good does it do the graduates themselves who have been led to believe that a STEM degree was their ticket to a bright future?

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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