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Science is really hard…

November 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Or so claims the New York Times:

Professor Chang says that rather than losing mainly students from disadvantaged backgrounds or with lackluster records, the attrition rate can be higher at the most selective schools, where he believes the competition overwhelms even well-qualified students.

“You’d like to think that since these institutions are getting the best students, the students who go there would have the best chances to succeed,” he says. “But if you take two students who have the same high school grade-point average and SAT scores, and you put one in a highly selective school like Berkeley and the other in a school with lower average scores like Cal State, that Berkeley student is at least 13 percent less likely than the one at Cal State to finish a STEM degree.”

The bulk of attrition comes in engineering and among pre-med majors, who typically leave STEM fields if their hopes for medical school fade. There is no doubt that the main majors are difficult and growing more complex. Some students still lack math preparation or aren’t willing to work hard enough.

My basic problem is the overall framing of the article. I am deeply skeptical we actually “need” more scientists, and my casual reading of the economics suggests the problem would disappear if industry just raised salaries. I have to look up the references, but I believe a few studies document that interest in STEM fields fields closely tracks salaries and employment prospects. As the article itself noted, many gifted students quickly “see easier ways to make money.”

I also don’t think Matt Moniz’s decision (profiled in the article) to switch out of engineering into psychology and English should be viewed as this great tragedy.
That said, I’m all for people keeping people interested in science and engineering, making classwork more relevant to daily life, getting rid of/minimizing weed-out classes, and mostly eliminating the whole macho attitude around these fields.
Categories: Education, STEM

High-skill immigrants don’t necessarily generate jobs

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Beryl Lieff Benderly’s reporting suggests the conventional wisdom on high-skill immigrants and entrepreneurship doesn’t quite add up:

Greifeld, Smith, and Skorton then expounded on the pressing need for more technically trained foreigners to create jobs and economic growth in the United States. They noted repeatedly the many openings Microsoft and other companies are advertising right now. (Unmentioned were the claims of critics that companies sometimes strategically place job advertisements to circumvent federal requirements that exist to give hiring preference to Americans.) Senators and witnesses both invoked Google, Yahoo, and eBay as examples of immigrants’ reputedly special propensity to found great corporations; as often happens, the discussion failed to note that these companies’ foreign-born founders and co-founders arrived in this country as small children and were educated in American schools.

Witnesses also repeated another widely repeated, though convincingly refuted, claim — that H-1Bs create jobs for Americans, specifically that five citizens are hired for every short-term visa holder admitted. Were this bit of mythology true, John Miano of the Center for Immigration Studies has written, “the H-1B program should be creating around 500,000 to 1,000,000 new jobs a year,” a number so large it couldn’t be missed, but that “simply is not there. Statistically, there is no linear correlation whatsoever between H-1B visas and job growth. 

Background here and here.

Categories: STEM

Women in STEM: a gender gap to innovation

September 8, 2011 1 comment

The Department of Commerce draws (more!) attention to the dearth of women in STEM fields:

–Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce.

–Women with STEM jobs earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs–considerably higher than the STEM premium for men. As a result, the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs.

–Women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering.

–Women with a STEM degree are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM occupation; they are more likely to work in education or healthcare.

–There are many possible factors contributing to the discrepancy of women and men in STEM jobs, including: a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields. Regardless of the causes, the findings of this report provide evidence of a need to encourage and support women in STEM.

I’m not sure we need more STEM workers period, women or otherwise. Nevertheless, I’m all for expanding opportunities for everyone to get disillusioned for themselves.

Categories: STEM