Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Education Competitiveness Act

How about this for an incentive to hit the math books? Major in one of the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) and receive a full college scholarship. This is one of the provisions proposed by Senator Max Baucus of Montana as part of the Education Competiveness Act. This scholarship would apply to ANY university and Senator Baucus even proposes to cover tuition and other expenses like books, student fees and school supplies too. Sounds like a sweet deal.

So, what's the catch? Upon completion of a STEM degree program, graduates must work or teach for four years in a related field. Small price to pay for a full ride, don't you think?

This program creates the incentive to be prepared to enter a STEM degree program and successfully complete it. It could attract some very bright minds into the teaching ranks that may otherwise have taken a different path. I have to admit, if it works, it could possibly turn the tide by taking the math/science education issue to the forefront. And why not? Parents do all kinds of crazy things to prepare their children for athletic scholarships. Maybe this will create the incentive to do a better job of preparing our children for careers in the STEM disciplines. In fact, being a math nerd just might become as cool as being a jock.

Will we develop the talent capable of benefiting from such scholarships? If the situation with public school math education remains on it's current course, many otherwise capable students will miss out on a great opportunity to effect meaningful change. They are going to have to be ready for more than remedial math when they get to college and the time to ask questions is now. Examine textbooks (if your child even has one), ask questions about scope and sequence, expectations, and research the math curriculum in place at your child's school. Take a hard, objective look at what's happening in the classroom and honestly assess whether it's working for your child and will get them to where they want to be.

‘‘I think the challenge is fierce, and I think we have a real obligation to go the extra mile and redo things a bit differently, so we leave this place in better shape than we found it,’’ Baucus said.

Politicians are starting to stand up and take notice. That's a good thing because this just may be THE educational issue of our generation. There is no doubt we need to develop scientists, engineers, and strong mathematical and technological minds if our nation is to find its way through the global maze. But will our children be prepared to take the baton and run with it?

Baucus proposing free college tuition
By The Associated Press

Cross posted at
Kitchen Table Math.


Independent George said...

It's a nice idea, but I doubt it would have much effect.

Students already have a huge financial incentive to study STEM: significantly higher salaries immediately after graduation. And since most students already get need-based financial aid, taking four prime earnings years in exchange for a scholarship might actually hurt their long-term earnings.

The reason more people aren't earning technical degrees isn't because there is no financial incentive; it's because the work is damned friggin' hard, and most of the people who want to study the subjects won't make it through freshman calc. People already know that engineering majors earn more money than comparative lit majors; it's a question of whether or not you can actually earn the engineering degree.

Independent George said...

Now that I think of it, I think the issue here isn't engineering vs. humanities, but engineering vs. finance. There's far more crossover with the business/economics majors than with the humanities majors, and here the financial incentives seem pretty significant.

There seems to be a much bigger upside to studying business than engineering, even if engineers get a higher base to start with. Given that business degrees tend to be a heck of a lot easier (and I say this as someone who switched from biochemistry to economics in my third year of undergrad), the key issue seems to be convincing smart, mathematically gifted undergrads to work for Google instead of Goldman Sachs. If this is the case, the STEM program definitely won't work.

concernedCTparent said...

Sadly, you raise very good points. Why is it though, that despite the financial incentives already in place by the marketplace we find ourselves so seriously lacking in quality STEM candidates?

I guess what I'm hoping is that this makes getting there and struggling through those subjects of significance. It just may bring a value to the process of preparing students to be competitive in these fields.

The 4 year requirement to teach is equivalent to "public service" required by other countries before you can enter a more lucrative field. In the meantime, the residual effect may be that many qualified math and science teachers will find it is their calling and stay on, while others will benefit from having attended a university that they may not have afforded otherwise. During those 4 years they could certainly work towards a graduate degree in the STEM disciplines while continuing to teach and then they just might make the big bucks afterall.

concernedCTparent said...

Oh yes... and it sure beats starting your lucrative career in engineering with loads of debt (student loans and such). Paying back your education with 4 years of teaching instead sounds a lot better.

concernedCTparent said...

Over at KTM, Mark Roulo pointed out that the 4 year requirement is to "work or teach". That changes things quite significantly, doesn't it? I think it makes the full scholarships more appealing because that certainly leaves lots of other career options available.

Sounds, like a pretty amazing opportunity, actually. It would become extremely competitive. Only the best minds would qualify. This would inspire competition... competition is a very desireable phenomenon. We'd have students (and their parents) falling over themselves to achieve academic excellence in math and science.

Wouldn't that be nice?

Delila said...

Well said.