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Shortage of Scientists Sends Signal

Projected drop in doctoral-level graduates would hamper US universities and research work

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But paying for college is harder for minorities: ``Over the last 10 years, the dollars per student of financial aid has remained constant. During that same period, educational costs have more than doubled,'' says George Campbell Jr., president of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) in New York.

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While 72 percent of all nonminority students get significant financial support from their families, fewer than 25 percent of minority engineering students surveyed by NACME get significant support; almost 40 percent get none.

While the number of women earning doctorates in science and engineering has increased in recent years, that trend may reverse itself shortly: The percentage of women earning undergraduate degrees in science and engineering has been declining for the past two years, says Marsha Matyas, director of the AAAS program on women and science.

``There seems to be the public attitude that we have solved the problem for women,'' says Dr. Matyas. ``In fact, we are backsliding.''

Like minorities, women are hampered by cultural stereotypes that they aren't good scientists and by a lack of role models. But they're getting less institutional support, says Matyas, who recently completed a survey of programs to help women, minorities, and the physically impaired at 502 US colleges and universities.

Half of the programs Matyas surveyed were open only to minority students; only 9 percent focused exclusively on women.

Although Matyas found that role-model programs are successful for students, they are a drain on the faculty members who volunteer to be mentors - often at the expense of their other work. ``Working with women and minorities does not help you get tenure,'' she says.

Economic inequities

Tulane's president blames simple economics for the deepening labor deficit: ``We don't pay teachers enough, we don't pay college teachers enough, we don't pay scientists enough,'' says Dr. Kelly, an economist by training. ``We pay the most important people in our society the least amount of money, and that has started to have its impact on both the quality of life, in terms of problems in our cities, and world economic relations.

``In our society, the people that have moved up the economic ladder have not been the scientists, but the lawyers, financiers, and marketers,'' Kelly says. Compounding the problem is a shift in financial aid programs from fellowships to loans. Saddled with debts from college, graduating students have pressing economic reasons for pursuing professional instead of academic careers.

For example, says Kelly, a new lawyer who has spent just three years in law school can expect to earn as much as $85,000. But a student graduating with a doctorate, after spending four to eight years in pursuit of the advanced degree, would earn just $30,000 to $35,000 as an assistant professor at Tulane.

Nevertheless, when President Kelly tours New Orleans high schools, he tells the minority students to go into the sciences, rather than pursue one-in-a-million chances in music or athletics.

And job opportunities for scientists and engineers are getting better all the time.

``It is worth noting that the employment rate for scientists and engineers is increasing faster than total US employment, accounting for 3.6 percent of the labor force in 1986 compared with 2.4 percent in 1976,'' says Atkinson of the AAAS. ``Thus, it is reasonable to assume an intensified competition for the scientists and engineers produced during the coming decade. Opportunities for those graduates will be excellent, a fact that needs to be emphasized to young people now making career choices.''