JOHN F. FLOYD COMMENTARY: US students ill prepared for STEM disciplines
Why are high-tech companies such as Apple building research and development centers in China? Could it be the education system in the United States can’t supply enough technically educated personnel who will be responsible for leading the country into the next century?
Is the U.S. education system inadequate, or is the supply of technically oriented students just not available? I think it is a little or a lot of both.
I recently attended the graduation of my granddaughter from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The Charlotte campus is a beautiful consortium of buildings with gorgeous, tree-lined streets and beautiful flowers. The graduation ceremony was held at the James H. Barnhardt Student Activity Center, a magnificent edifice for such a ceremony celebrating the achievements of young adults. Total enrollment for UNC is a little more than 30,000 students, so the graduating class was quite large.
When I returned home, I turned my attention to the graduation commencement booklet, which was quite lengthy. Upon close examination, I was quite surprised at the nationality of the graduates in the STEM curriculums — science, technology, engineering and math. First of all, I looked at the graduates of the master’s programs. The master’s program in mathematical finance graduated 39 students, of which 34 were from India, China or Italy. This percentage was indicative of the rest of the STEM disciplines. The graduates of Master of Social Work were 100% identified as being from the U.S., as were art, dance, theater, fine arts and music. All are wonderful disciplines, but not essential.
Doctoral degrees for students in computing and information systems was 50% international and 50% domestic. The same percentages also applied to electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering. But when it came to the master’s in electrical engineering, there were 52 candidates and 45 of them were from India. The Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering, of the 41 candidates 28 were from India and 13 were from the U.S.
This begs the question: “Are there not enough STEM candidates in the U.S. to fill the positions at Amercan colleges and universities?”
I don’t think UNC-Charlotte is an anomaly. America’s high schools are not preparing students for the STEM disciplines. How can we ask the Apples of the world to establish research and development operations or manufacturing capability in the U.S. when we do not have the ability to supply them with the appropriate manpower?
At this moment in time, the U.S. needs to bring research and development back to our country. We no longer can afford to outsource strategic materials and manufacturing to China. China has become more adversarial in many ways. Arthur Herman, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “The demand to decouple key sectors of the economy from China has made it an economic and national security priority.” “In many sectors, decoupling will require federal assistance,” Herman wrote. “Rather than throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at the problem, Washington should provide tax incentives, deregulation and highly targeted investment in research and development. A 2015 study by consulting firms Strategy and PWC found that U.S. companies were steadily moving their research and development centers to China to be closer to production, suppliers and engineering talent.”
I think the primary reason for the move was the availability of “engineering talent.”
I recall a political cartoon that shows a person holding a “destroy history” and a “BLM” sign with the remains of a statue in the background. A person says, “That was a statue of an abolitionist.” The person holding the sign says, “What is an abolitionist?” A person observing the confrontation says, “Maybe we should be defunding public education.”
I am not for cutting funding for education, but I am for having goals and objectives for today’s U.S. education system. The primary goal should be the strengthening of the STEM disciplines, such as the effort following Russia’s launching of Sputnik.
Present-day American education is suspect and is responsible for the “dumbing down” of the country. But it is still an education system that makes students from abroad strive for admission.
John F. Floyd is a Gadsden native who graduated from Gadsden High School in 1954. He formerly was director of United Kingdom manufacturing, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., vice president of manufacturing and international operations, General Tire & Rubber Co., and director of manufacturing, Chrysler Corp. He can be reached at email@example.com. The opinions reflected are his own.