Science degrees continue to decline

It's not lack of government spending, academic says. To fix the problem, look at how schools and universities organize science education.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

The decline in students who graduate with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics does not bode well for the future of the U.S. economy, reports the Patriot News. The Sunday commentary states that though our government spends billion on science programs, fewer degrees are awarded in science fields every year.

A 1994-95 study found 32 percent of students obtained degrees in science, technology, mathematics and engineering. In 2003-04, 27 percent of degrees awarded were science-related degrees. How does this decline impact the U.S. economy?

"Science and technology form the universal language of business, driving economic growth and fueling future careers. Students must learn that universal language to succeed and flourish in a global economy. Graduates who bring the versatility of specialized technical aptitudes and business skills to the work force will enjoy the high-tech "gold collar" careers of the future," wrote Melvyn D. Schiavelli, author and founding president of Harrisburg (PA) University of Science and Technology.

Schiavelli suggests that universities need to attract students to the sciences earlier than at the graduate level. Classes should be smaller and more challenging. Classes should taught by top faculty, not junior faculty.

"If higher education institutions approach these courses as "gathering in" courses that include experiential learning, small class sizes, hands-on laboratory experiments and mentoring, we can retain more students in these disciplines."

Schiavelli concludes that talent is the most important in building a workforce that in innovative and versatile. Universities must adapt their curriculum structure in order to capture and retain that talent.

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