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BOX 7-1

Another Point of View: Science and Engineering Human Resources

Some believe that calls for increased numbers of science and engineering students are based more on the fear of a looming crisis than on a reaction to reality. Indeed, skeptics argue that there is no current documented shortage in the labor markets for scientists and engineers. In fact, in some areas we have just the opposite.a For example, during the last decade, there have been surpluses of life scientists at the doctoral level, high unemployment of engineers, and layoffs in the information-technology sector in the aftermath of the “dot-bomb.”

Although there have been concerns about declining enrollments of US citizens in undergraduate engineering programs and in science and engineering graduate education, and these concerns have been compounded by recent declines in enrollments of international graduate students, enrollments in undergraduate engineering and of US citizens in graduate science and engineering have recently risen.

All of this suggests that the recommendations for additional support for thousands of undergraduates and graduates could be setting those students up for jobs that might not exist. Moreover, there are those who argue that international students crowd out domestic students and that a decline in international enrollments could encourage more US citizens, including individuals from underrepresented groups, to pursue graduate education.

Over the last decade, there has been similar debate over the number of H-1B visas that should be issued, with fervent calls both for increasing and for decreasing the cap. A recent report of the National Academies argued that there was no scientific way to find the “right” number of H-1Bs and that determining the appropriate level is and must be a political process.b


aJ. Mervis. “Down for the Count.” Science 300(5622)(2003):1070-1074.


bNational Research Council. Building a Workforce for the Information Economy. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.

tem, we face even further uncertainty about our ability to attract those students to our institutions and to encourage them to become US citizens.

We must also encourage and enable US students from all sectors of our own society to participate in science, mathematics, and engineering programs, at least at the level of those who would be our competitors. But given increased global competition and reduced access to the US higher

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