Press Release

Subcommittee Examines Ways to Improve Undergraduate and Graduate STEM Education

By SpaceRef Editor
February 4, 2010
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(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Science and Technology Committee’s Research and Science Education Subcommittee held a hearing to examine the current state of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in U.S. colleges and universities. Specifically, Subcommittee Members and witnesses discussed ways to improve the quality and effectiveness of STEM education for undergraduate and graduate students. Members also examined the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) role in supporting reform in undergraduate and graduate STEM education. Overall, Members and witnesses agreed that systemic reform of higher education in the STEM fields will be critical to meeting America’s research and workforce needs in the 21st century global economy.

“As a former engineering student and college professor, I’m keenly interested in making sure our colleges and universities provide the best instruction possible to students in STEM disciplines. To address concerns about the quality of higher education in STEM fields and our nation’s ability to maintain its position of leadership in research, development and innovation in a global marketplace, the Science and Technology Committee passed the America COMPETES Act in 2007,” said Lipinski. “One key element of any competitiveness agenda is ensuring that we provide high quality STEM education across our country. So, in 2007, we focused largely on supporting education at the K-12 level by making sure we have highly qualified STEM teachers in every school. This year’s reauthorization of the COMPETES Act provides us with the opportunity to take a comprehensive look at the need for STEM education reform at the undergraduate and graduate levels.”

According to NSF’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2010 report, although the number of undergraduate students majoring in the science and engineering fields has increased steadily over the past fifteen years, the number of degrees varies widely among fields. For example, there has been a large decrease in bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science and a decrease in master’s in engineering degrees. Many experts have suggested that the number of students entering these disciplines already falls short or will soon fall short of meeting workforce demands. In addition to concerns about quantity of students, several reports have highlighted deficiencies in the quality of post-secondary STEM education, and have tied quality back to recruitment and attrition problems.

NSF, the agency that promotes the progress of science, also supports and invests in STEM education at all levels, including through its support for research on the teaching and learning of STEM. Currently, NSF funds a variety of programs designed to improve the quality and effectiveness of undergraduate and graduate STEM education, ranging from direct support to students for hands-on research opportunities and interdisciplinary training, to institutional grants supporting innovation in STEM learning in the classroom. The Foundation also provides competitive scholarships and fellowships as incentives to increase the total number of students pursuing STEM degrees. As part of the COMPETES reauthorization, the Committee will review NSF’s full portfolio of STEM education and research programs.

Some of the recommendations witnesses provided for improving STEM education at the undergraduate and graduate levels are:

. Providing new and current professors training in current pedagogy;

. Updating STEM curricula to incorporate current knowledge about how students really learn STEM; and

. Finding ways to combine disciplinary depth with interdisciplinary training and research opportunities. “Just last week in the State of the Union address, the president spoke about the need to encourage American innovation,” added Lipinski. “I couldn’t agree more, and one of the most effective ways to support innovation is to invest in STEM education. This investment will allow the scientists, engineers and innovators of the future to be well equipped to help keep the U.S. economy growing and our population employed in high wage jobs.”

About the America COMPETES Act: The America COMPETES Act grew out of the National Academies’ 2005 report Rising Above the Gathering Storm. The report showed a bleak future–a stagnating U.S. economy, an ill-equipped educational system, and the U.S. losing its place as a scientific world leader–and offered recommendations to prevent that from coming to pass. COMPETES passed the House by a vote of 367 to 57. This legislation was signed into law by President George W. Bush on August 9, 2007. The Omnibus and the Recovery package brought funding for the programs in COMPETES to or above the FY09 authorized levels. This bill will expire at the end of FY2010.

SpaceRef staff editor.