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BOX 7-2

National Defense Education Act

Adopted by Congress in response to the launch of Sputnik and the emerging threat to the United States posed by the Soviet Union in 1958, the original National Defense Education Act (NDEA) boosted education and training and was accompanied by simultaneous actions that created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Advanced Research Project Agency (now the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and substantially increased NSF funding. It was funded with federal funds of about $400-500 million (adjusted to US$ 2004 value). NDEA provided funding to enhance research facilities; fellowships to thousands of graduate students pursuing degrees in science, mathematics, engineering, and foreign languages; and low-interest loans for undergraduates in these fields.

By the 1970s the act had been largely superseded by other programs, but its legacy remains in the form of several federal student-loan programs.a The legislation ultimately benefited all higher education as the notion of defense was expanded to include most disciplines and fields of study.b

Today, however, there are concerns about the Department of Defense (DOD) workforce. This workforce has experienced a real attrition of more than 13,000 personnel over the last 10 years. At the same time, the DOD projects that its workforce demands will increase by more than 10% over the next 5 years (by 2010). Indeed, several major studies since 1999 argue that the number of US graduates in critical areas is not meeting national, homeland, and economic security needs.c Science, engineering, and language skills continue to have very high priority across governmental and industrial sectors.

Many positions in critical-skill areas require security clearances, meaning that only US citizens may apply. Over 95% of undergraduates are US citizens, but in many of the science and engineering fields fewer than 50% of those earning PhDs are US citizens. Retirements also loom on the horizon: over 60% of the federal science and engineering workforce is over 45 years old, and many of these people are employed by DOD. Department of Defense and other federal agencies face increased competition from domestic and global commercial interests for top-of-their-class, security-clearance-eligible scientists and engineers.

In response to those concerns, DOD has proposed in its budget submission a new NDEA. The new NDEA includes a number of new initiatives that some believe should be accomplished by 2008—the 50th anniversary of the original NDEA.d


aAssociation of American Universities. A National Defense Education and Innovation Initiative: Meeting America’s Economic and Security Challenges in the 21st Century. Washington DC: AAU, 2006. Available at:


bM. Parsons. “Higher Education Is Just Another Special Interest.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 51(22)(2005):B20. Available at: htm.


cNational Security Workforce. Challenges and Solutions Web page. Available at:


dSee and H.R. 1815, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006, Sec. 1105. Science, Mathematics, and Research Transportation (SMART) Defense Education Program—National Defense Education Act (NDEA), Phase I.

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