AWE Literature Overview

The Talent Crisis in Science and Engineering-- Abstract

There is a talent crisis in science and engineering (S&E) that constrains America’s economic productivity, competitiveness, quality of life, and security. Our educational system is not producing the workforce we need and our reliance on imported talent is high and increasing. The need for greater diversity in higher education and in the S&E workforce is widely recognized. Large segments of our population – women and minorities – are available to fill the talent gap. In 2006, women were earning only 20% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering and 21% in computer science – the fields most in demand for U.S. economic interests.

Why isn’t the United States tapping into under-utilized populations for the sake of competitiveness and prosperity? There are a number of reasons: tradition, discrimination, work/family pressures, narrow and inaccurate images of S&E professions, inadequate educational preparation, and weak legal or moral pressure to change educational practice. A number of laws forbid discrimination. Title IX was recently invoked as a legal pressure on institutions receiving Federal funding. Still, enforcement is problematic given such complex contributing factors and change is slow due to embedded traditions. 

The S&E departments in many universities have shown that change is possible and feasible. There are many known “promising,” “proven,” or “best” practices. Both MIT and Harvard produced detailed action plans to increase faculty diversity. Studies of successful physics departments describe characteristics of those that produce a high percentage of female graduates. Several projects offer “implementation kits” for good practices, and rich information on how to make improvements to increase faculty diversity.

Measures that allow us to characterize and monitor the status of women in S&E professions are available. The National Science Foundation, the National Center for Education Statistics, the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) publish statistics on students and/or faculty, disaggregated by sex, race, and ethnicity. Indicators for faculty diversity in S&E fields have been developed by the AAUP and by the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program grantees.

Two frontiers are prominent in 2009: greater recruitment of students, especially women and minorities, to engineering and computer science education, and employment and advancement of women and minorities through faculty ranks in most S&E fields.

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Developed by The Pennsylvania State University and University of Missouri
Funded by The National Science Foundation (HRD 0120642 and HRD 0607081)