Wanted: More Science Students

Even though the US ranks among the top three nations in producing science and engineering graduates (along with China and Japan), too few Americans are gravitating toward those fields.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the number of science- related occupations will grow by 47 percent between 2000 and 2010 - compared to about 15 percent for all occupations.

To fill that need, a new National Science Board study recommends the federal government: (1) sponsor more scholarships for science students; (2) give more financial support to graduate and postdoctoral scientific research; and (3) work to attract and retain more qualified science, math, and technology teachers in elementary and secondary schools.

In the meantime, foreign workers are filling the gap. The latest US Census found 17 percent of workers with college degrees in science and engineering are from a foreign country. That figure jumps to 29 percent for those with a master's degree and 38 percent for those with a PhD.

Despite increased funding for science education in recent years, student test scores in subjects like chemistry and physics have largely held steady. More science educators could take a cue from math teachers, who've recently emphasized analysis and reasoning over stuffing students with facts alone and drilling them in computation. Math scores on a recent national assessment rose significantly, possibly as a result of such teaching. A similar approach could make science more attractive, interesting, relevant, and even fun.

Investing in such students will ensure that science and technology continue to be, in the science board's words, "engines of US economic growth and national security."

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