JOB DESTRUCTION NEWSLETTER
by Rob Sanchez
July 07, 2004 - No. 1050
Shortage Shouting Newspapers At Work
Springfield News joins a growing list of newspapers that
are declaring that there is a desperate shortage of scientists and
engineers - and the solution to the crisis is to increase the number of
H-1B visas that can be issued each year.
Newspapers that have had recent editorials in support of an H-1B
2004 Missouri Springfield News
June 6, 2004 Denver Post
June 6, 2004 Rocky Mountain News
May 30, 2004 Boston Globe
May 31, 2004 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
editorial below is followed by a much more detailed and
balanced analysis of the current shortage shouting. Notice that the
National Science board has declared the "shortage" as a national
crisis. This is nothing new for the NSB.
presidents, government officials, and heads of industry have joined together
in a chorus of concern over the state of science and engineering in the United
States. The danger signs are obvious, they say. Fewer U.S. citizens are getting
doctorates in those fields. There is increasing competition from other countries
for the foreign graduate students who once flocked to the United States. And
those changes come when many argue that the United States needs more technically
trained people to power its
economy. In a report in May, the National Science Board reached the gloomy conclusion that "these trends threaten the economic welfare and security of our country."
The NSB is notorious for being wrong - and they do it over, and over, and over.
a lamentation has an all-too familiar ring to some experts, and it strikes
them as off-key. In the mid-1980s, the National Science Foundation warned
the nation would soon lack enough scientists and engineers to fill the necessary posts in academe -- a forecast that turned out to be wildly inaccurate. Instead, over the
past decade, thousands of frustrated researchers have labored in postdoctoral positions at low wages because they could not find jobs in academe or industry.
I haven't seen the RAND report, but the interesting thing is that H-1B started in 1990 to solve shortages of technical workers - the same date RAND started their study that shows there weren't shortages.
recurring concerns about potential shortages of
STEM [scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematics]
personnel in the U.S. work force, particularly in engineering
and information technology, we did not find evidence that
such shortages have existed at least since 1990, nor that
they are on the horizon," concluded the RAND Corporation
in a report this year.
The NSF has been shortage shouting for a very long time.
Erich Bloch, director of the National Science
Foundation, warned, "We are not training enough young
scientists and engineers."
is consistently wrong about the supply of science workers but
that doesn't seem to stop the shills from quoting them as authorities.
soon became clear that those predictions were about
as accurate as long-term weather forecasts. The Bureau of
Labor Statistics audited its own success in predicting job
needs and found major errors in projections for technical
fields. In 1990, for example, the bureau forecast that
employment in electrical and electronics engineering would
grow by 40 percent by the year 2000 -- but the number of
jobs actually decreased by 16 percent. Agricultural and
food science had 14 percent fewer positions by 2000, even
though the bureau projected an increase of 21 percent.
this "shortage" the NSB wants to bring in more foreign
students - at taxpayers expense.
the wondrous complexity of the California system's
budget, the tuition money does not go back to each campus
in full, so universities end up losing money on foreign
graduate students. (U.S. citizens not from California usually
qualify as in-state students after their first year and pay
This dispels the common myth that Americans aren't getting graduate
degrees. Shortage shouters like to say that less Americans are going
into graduate schools which will create future shortages of engineers
and scientists. They are flat out wrong.
issued by the National Science Foundation last week
supports Mr. Lowell's concerns. Although the agency warned in
May of the declining number of graduate degrees granted to
American students, more recent data point to an opposite trend:
Increasing numbers of U.S. citizens are now entering graduate
school in engineering and every field of science. Enrollment
climbed 6.7 percent from 2000 to 2002 for domestic students.
of American citizens enrolling in physics graduate
programs, for example, surged by 45 percent in the past five
degrees issued shouldn't be used to judge whether there will
be worker shortages.
"At NSF, I think, they have a perverse focus on doctorates,"
Lowell. "Doctorates are not the only ones that run
our R&D enterprise." In engineering, especially, higher-level
degrees are not required. According to data collected by the
NSF in 2001, 70 percent of engineers entered
science-and-engineering jobs with bachelor's degrees.
The NSB will never admit this reality:
and others who track the job market raise a
heretical question: Is the United States educating too
many scientists and engineers? The surprising answer
coming from some quarters is an emphatic yes.
denies that market forces guide career choices. Here is the
stagnant and too few jobs for engineers,
adding to the work force will only make those careers
less attractive, says one of the authors,
George F. McClure.
Published July 7, 2004
Scientist shortage threatens edge
Visa expansion, more schooling is needed.
Books are stacked in the lab of a science classroom in Crane.
News-Leader File Photo
States is putting itself at a competitive disadvantage in
the world of science and technology. We don't have enough scientists,
mathematicians and engineers. If this does not change, our country will
lose its long-standing dominant position in scientific breakthroughs.
One solution is fairly straightforward. Another is much tougher but
ultimately far more necessary.
answer is to increase the caps in the H-1B visa program, which
allows companies to hire temporary workers from overseas in certain
occupations. We ought to bring the workers here rather than send the
Congress put a 65,000-visa cap on the program. It was reached
in February of this year, just five months into the federal fiscal
year. No more will be issued until October.
aren't bringing in low-wage labor. Companies must certify
that they are paying the prevailing wage in that industry or for
comparable people they employ, whichever is higher. The cost of
applying for an H-1B visa is about $10,000 per employee.
needing employees or universities and school districts
needing teachers turn to this only if they can't find the people they
need domestically. The ultimate solution is to develop more homegrown
the meantime, a coalition called Compete America is asking for
changes in the program. It wants Congress to waive the gap for foreign
students receiving advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and
universities, arguing that taxpayers have an investment in these
students and it is better to recoup that investment here than sending
them home. The group also is arguing for procedural changes to stop the
H-1B visa from being used as a path to permanent residence.
make sense, especially when one considers the number of
foreign students enrolled in American universities. According to the
National Science Foundation, more than half of the doctoral degrees
awarded by U.S. universities in engineering, math and computer sciences
went to foreign nationals.
among the brightest students in the world. We ought to try to
keep them here.
the long term, the best answer is to get more American students
into the sciences and to improve science education. "We are in a race.
We can't assume any longer our technological superiority is a blessing
God bestowed on us. We need to work to maintain our edge," says Larry
Meyer of Compete America.
the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik spurred a renewed
interest in science as a matter of national defense. No sudden crisis
has erupted now, but the challenges are just as great. We can meet them
only with a strategy that emphasizes science along with math and
reading and that provides incentives to encourage the best to major in
these fields in college.
>From the issue dated July 9, 2004
Is There a Science Crisis? Maybe Not
warn of a labor shortage in the U.S., but indicators point to
By RICHARD MONASTERSKY
Last fall the president of the University of Maryland found himself
doing something that none of his predecessors would have dreamed of
trying. While on a trip to Taiwan, C. Dan Mote Jr. spent part of his
time recruiting Taiwanese students to go to the United States for
"Can you imagine an American university president doing that?" he asks.
In 1988 Taiwan sent more students to the United States than did any other foreign country, primarily to study science and engineering. But in the past decade, the flow of talented Taiwanese has started to dry up, and graduate enrollment has declined by 25 percent. "This is a new day we're experiencing," says Mr. Mote.
As a former professor of engineering, he is particularly concerned about what the drop portends for the health of science and engineering in the United States. "The circumstances for our decline are definitely in place," he says, "and we need to do something about the circumstances before this great decline does occur."
presidents, government officials, and heads of industry have
joined together in a chorus of concern over the state of science and
engineering in the United States. The danger signs are obvious, they
say. Fewer U.S. citizens are getting doctorates in those fields. There
is increasing competition from other countries for the foreign graduate
students who once flocked to the United States. And those changes come
when many argue that the United States needs more technically trained
people to power its economy. In a report in May, the National Science
Board reached the gloomy conclusion that "these trends threaten the
economic welfare and security of our country."
a lamentation has an all-too familiar ring to some experts,
and it strikes them as off-key. In the mid-1980s, the National Science
Foundation warned that the nation would soon lack enough scientists and
engineers to fill the necessary posts in academe -- a forecast that
turned out to be wildly inaccurate. Instead, over the past decade,
thousands of frustrated researchers have labored in postdoctoral
positions at low wages because they could not find jobs in academe or
data suggest that the new predictions may fare no better than
earlier ones. In fact, contrary to prevailing wisdom, which fixes blame
on poor training in science and mathematics from kindergarten through
the 12th grade, record numbers of Americans are earning bachelor's
degrees in science and engineering. And unemployment rates in at least
some sectors of science and engineering have topped the charts.
recurring concerns about potential shortages of STEM
[scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematics] personnel in the
U.S. work force, particularly in engineering and information
technology, we did not find evidence that such shortages have existed
at least since 1990, nor that they are on the horizon," concluded the
RAND Corporation in a report this year.
about shortages are a dangerous business," says Paula E.
Stephan, a professor of economics at Georgia State University who has
tracked employment in science. The inaccuracy of past pronouncements,
she says, "creates a woof-woof problem. How many times can you say this
and the public will believe it?"
even as science leaders opined about the alarming NSF report
from May, the agency announced last week that graduate-student
enrollment in science and engineering actually reached a new peak in
2002. Foreign enrollment set a record and so did first-time enrollment
for U.S. citizens. "Overall, the declines in total graduate S&E
enrollment from 1994 through 1998 have reversed with gains in
enrollment every year since 1999," according to the foundation.
history of such flip-flops, some observers turn the current
concerns on their head and ask whether American academic institutions
are training too many scientists and engineers. An editorial in Science
this year argued: "We've arranged to produce more knowledge workers
than we can employ, creating a labor-excess economy that keeps labor
costs down and productivity high. Maybe we keep doing this because in
our heart of hearts, we really prefer it this way."
of the gloomy forecasts, however, say that America's
science-and-engineering machine faces significant challenges in a world
much altered by global competition and increasing diversity at home.
The landscape has changed markedly from the days when a group of
technically trained white men put another group of white men on the
moon. As the number of those men entering science has declined,
national leaders have sought to bring more women and minorities into
the enterprise. At the same time, the United States has come to rely on
an increasing proportion of foreign talent -- a strategy that could
prove shortsighted if current restrictions on obtaining visas force
international students and researchers to go elsewhere.
if the visa difficulties fade, leaders both inside and outside
academe say the education system in the United States must reform
itself to maintain the country's technological edge.
crisis may not be one of quantity but of quality. "Academic
institutions need to change to educate students in a much broader
context than they do now," says Warren M. Washington, chair of the
National Science Board, which advises the president and Congress and
oversees the National Science Foundation. "You'll be hearing
enlightened university presidents talking about this. But down at the
department level, there's this focusing only on the narrow sort of
discipline objectives. That's where it's going to be hard to make
and his colleagues on the board offered a stark vision
of the future in their May report, titled "An Emerging and Critical
Problem of the Science and Engineering Labor Force." The major sources
of their concern reside within a six-pound document called "Science and
Engineering Indicators, 2004," a report issued every two years by the
National Science Foundation. The board noted in particular a rising
reliance on foreign-born talent, a decline in homegrown brainpower,
increasing difficulty in attracting overseas scholars, and a looming
shortage of scientists and engineers.
to the "Indicators" report, the 2000 census showed a sharp
rise in the numbers of foreign-born scientists and engineers in the
United States. They accounted for 17 percent of bachelor's-degree
holders, 29 percent of master's-degree holders, and 38 percent of
doctorate holders. A decade earlier, just 24 percent of doctorate
holders were born outside the United States.
imported overseas talent has long helped America, the report
raises concerns about the availability of such skilled people in the
future. Policy changes since September 11, 2001, coupled with
increasing competition for foreign students, make it less certain that
the nation will attract international brainpower, according to the NSF.
At the same time, the average age of the science-and-engineering work
force in America is rising, auguring a wave of job openings.
the situation, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
predicted in 2001 that the number of jobs in science and engineering
would grow at a rate three times that of all occupations, on average,
producing a 47-percent increase in science-and-engineering jobs by
2010. But the number of U.S.-born students getting doctorates in
science and engineering has declined in recent years.
foundation also pointed to other signs that America's
technical edge is growing dull. For example, the number of
science-and-engineering articles published by authors based in the
United States remained flat throughout the 1990s, while authors in
other nations significantly increased their output. (See article on
events have only exacerbated other concerns over America's
scientific future. In March a survey of 113 U.S. graduate schools by
the Council of Graduate Schools showed a 32-percent drop in the number
of foreign applications coming into those schools, particularly from
China. This sudden decrease sent a chill through university
administrations and faculties across the country.
are seeing a very significant decline in our ability to get people
here who want to come here," says G. Wayne Clough, president of the
Georgia Institute of Technology. "We are seeing a decline, we believe,
in the number of people who even want to come here, because high-tech
economies are showing strength in India and China, as examples, and in
other places. We're also seeing a significant increase in the number of
talented young people who came from China and Taiwan and India who say
they're going back."
got an odd set of currents," says Mr. Clough, "that merged at
this particular point, and it should concern us all."
The Once and Future Shortage
have resisted the urge to jump on the bleakness bandwagon,
however. They say they have seen it circle through their neighborhoods
in years past, blaring what turned out to be a false alarm.
Erich Bloch, director of the National Science Foundation,
warned, "We are not training enough young scientists and engineers."
Four years later he wrote, "At the end of the pipeline, too few new
Ph.D.'s are being produced, and an increasing fraction -- over 50
percent in engineering and mathematics -- are foreign students." He
also noted that "the demand for engineers, scientists, and technicians
is growing about twice as fast as supply and will exceed supply by 35
percent in the year 2000."
soon became clear that those predictions were about as accurate
as long-term weather forecasts. As the 1990s progressed, the lack of
science jobs forced increasing numbers of graduate students to continue
their training after getting doctorates, sometimes moving from one
fellowship to another before landing a more secure position. For
example, in 1973 only 27 percent of the people earning biomedical
Ph.D.'s went into postdoctoral positions. By 1995 the proportion had
jumped to 63 percent.
years scientists and engineers in certain sectors have found
positions scarce, and jobless rates have sometimes exceeded those in
the general population. For the first quarter of 2004, unemployment for
computer scientists and systems analysts hit 6.7 percent, a record
high. Last year the American Chemical Society concluded that "times are
becoming very tough for the chemical profession," with unemployment
rates at an all-time high. With job announcements growing ever scarcer
in journals, the proportion of new Ph.D. chemists entering postdoctoral
positions jumped by 10 percent from 2002 to 2003.
of Labor Statistics audited its own success in predicting
job needs and found major errors in projections for technical fields.
In 1990, for example, the bureau forecast that employment in electrical
and electronics engineering would grow by 40 percent by the year 2000
-- but the number of jobs actually decreased by 16 percent.
Agricultural and food science had 14 percent fewer positions by 2000,
even though the bureau projected an increase of 21 percent.
Babco, executive director of the Commission on Professionals in
Science and Technology, a nonprofit organization concerned with
work-force issues, pays close attention to such data. But she once
learned a personal lesson about the perils of predicting employment
needs. In 1982 she advised her son to go into petroleum engineering, a
field in which the job market was particularly hot. "It was just at the
height," she says. "Well, when he came out, it was starting to go down
so bad that Exxon hired just one person. We found out the hard way."
make some leaders wary about new claims of a looming
shortage, especially of foreign-born scientists. "I'm old enough now
that I've heard the crisis before," says Sally Mason, provost of Purdue
University who is also a biologist. "I'm just going to wait and see
what the data tell us."
which has the most foreign students of any American public
university, has seen a decline in the number of applications to its
graduate school this year. Part of the cause, Ms. Mason says, may be
the university's decision to impose an application fee, which could
have discouraged less-qualified students from applying.
still receives far more international applicants than
the number of available slots, and the application fee has had an added
benefit. "We're getting a much more serious group of students who are
applying for our graduate programs than in the past," Ms. Mason says.
"Next fall I don't think our class of international graduate students
will be much smaller, if at all."
I. Mitchell-Kernan, dean of the graduate division of the
University of California at Los Angeles, says her institution is
awaiting new enrollment figures. Last year fewer foreign students
applied to the graduate school, but the number who enrolled increased.
"As a matter of fact, our numbers have been going up for a decade," she
the school has far more foreign applicants than it can accept,
so enrollments have not dropped. But if the trend continues for several
more years, UCLA could see fewer foreign graduate students entering its
science and engineering departments, she says.
of international graduate students enrolling in science and
engineering at the University of Texas at Austin fell in 2003, although
not because of a supply problem. More foreigners had applied to Texas
in 2003 than the year before, but the university chose to admit fewer
of them. And even though a quarter fewer foreign students applied to
the university this year, it will still turn away nearly 4,000 aspiring
science-and-engineering graduate students from overseas. Among the
nation's public universities, Texas has the second-largest number of
the factors keeping international students out of the university
is a state budget crunch, which has reduced the graduate school's
ability to offset the costs of educating students, says Victoria E.
Rodríguez, dean of graduate studies. The budget problems affected
American applicants, too. The university saw an increase in the number
of domestic applications for graduate programs this year but admitted
slightly fewer of them.
universities, foreign students in science and engineering end
up costing more than domestic students do. Thus, in times of budget
shortfalls, universities get more selective. The cost differential is a
big factor in California, where the university or departments must pay
a portion of the approximately $22,000 out-of-state tuition and fees
charged to international students. Through the wondrous complexity of
the California system's budget, the tuition money does not go back to
each campus in full, so universities end up losing money on foreign
graduate students. (U.S. citizens not from California usually qualify
as in-state students after their first year and pay only $7,500.)
it comes down to a foreign student costing two to three times
what an American student costs, we're very choosy," says Marvin L.
Cohen, a professor of physics at the University of California at
Berkeley and president-elect of the American Physical Society.
visa restrictions and budget crunches in the United States have
made Australia, Canada, and Europe far more enticing to top students
around the world, he says: "Right now we're losing students and
postdoctoral students of very high abilities to other countries."
in government, academe, and business also worry about a related
problem: the growing competition from developing nations, like China
and South Korea, that have built up their own research capabilities and
are trying to lure their native sons and daughters back home after they
train in the United States.
data contradict the rhetoric. The National Science Foundation
reports that 76 percent of international students getting Ph.D.'s
intend to stay in the United States now, up from 63 percent a decade
argues that the United States should not look at those who do
return to their own countries as a loss. "If they finish their Ph.D.'s
and go back to their home country, then we have a friend for life," he
says. "It's a win situation." That's true even in the case of China, he
says: "We certainly are in some sort of a competition with China
economically. But the people we train that go back, go back with many
of our values."
extend beyond the obvious concepts of democracy into
scientific principles, such as "the idea of open collaboration, and
sharing, and giving other people a chance to look at your data because
you haven't figured it out."
the current international problems have hit close to home for
Mr. Cohen. One of Mr. Cohen's students went home to China last year to
introduce his fiancée to his parents but couldn't get back into the
United States for several months because of a visa snafu. So when Mr.
Cohen was preparing for a physics conference in Montreal in March, he
made calculated decisions about who should attend. Unmarried students
and postdocs could go, but married foreign students stayed home, so
they would not be separated from their families if visa problems
prevented their return.
have taken their toll, but they may be temporary. Mr.
Cohen discussed the issue with President Bush when the physicist
received the National Medal of Science in 2001, and the administration
recently pledged to resolve student-visa difficulties. What's more,
financial pressures in some states have begun to lighten.
of the problem is that a lot of these numbers do change quickly"
for international students, says B. Lindsay Lowell, director of policy
studies at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at
Georgetown University. "If they changed quickly down, they can indeed
change quickly up. So it's always a little risky to be making prognoses
about phenomena that are 15 to 20 years out. And we've been there
before so many times."
The Magnetic Pull of Physics
issued by the National Science Foundation last week supports
Mr. Lowell's concerns. Although the agency warned in May of the
declining number of graduate degrees granted to American students, more
recent data point to an opposite trend: Increasing numbers of U.S.
citizens are now entering graduate school in engineering and every
field of science. Enrollment climbed 6.7 percent from 2000 to 2002 for
graduate schools contacted by The Chronicle echoed that
conclusion by reporting increasing numbers of U.S. citizens applying
for openings in science and engineering. At UCLA, for example, domestic
enrollment in those areas has climbed from 1,771 in 1993 to 2,208 in
To a certain
extent, universities have expected the numbers to go up
slightly because of the sluggish U.S. economy. Graduate-school
enrollments often spike when jobs disappear. But the trends have
exceeded expectations in certain areas. The number of American citizens
enrolling in physics graduate programs, for example, surged by 45
percent in the past five years.
director of the statistical-research center at the
American Institute of Physics, says numbers tell only part of the
story. Department chairs, he says, talk of a strong increase in the
quality of U.S. citizens applying, "so they found themselves admitting
quite a few U.S. students." Although the NSF's report shows a declining
number of physics doctorates awarded to American citizens in recent
years, those numbers should soon climb, says Mr. Czujko.
pull of physics also has drawn increasing numbers of
undergraduates. "Among the things we're excited about is that the
undergraduates have gone up 25 percent in five years," he says.
trend illustrates a fact not well advertised by the science
foundation: While the number of doctorates awarded in science and
engineering declined slightly from its peak, in 1998, the number of
bachelor's degrees in science and engineering has climbed over the past
decade, both in total numbers and for U.S. citizens.
NSF, I think, they have a perverse focus on doctorates," says Mr.
Lowell. "Doctorates are not the only ones that run our R&D enterprise."
over the past decade, a slowly growing percentage of
bachelor's-degree holders in science and engineering got jobs in those
fields without first earning advanced degrees. In engineering,
especially, higher-level degrees are not required. According to data
collected by the NSF in 2001, 70 percent of engineers entered
science-and-engineering jobs with bachelor's degrees.
number of undergraduates studying technical fields also
contradicts prevailing notions about why more American students do not
place where the science establishment misreads what's going on is
that it implies it's always an education problem: Somehow Americans are
not getting good schooling" in elementary and secondary schools, says
Richard Freeman, a professor of economics at Harvard University.
"That's just nonsensical at one level. We have lots and lots of very
bright people who could go into science and engineering who don't."
like other economists, looks to dollars to make sense of
the trends among graduate students. "They're not studying science," he
says, "because they look and say, 'Do I want to be a postdoc paid
$35,000 or $40,000 at age 35, with extreme uncertainty working in
somebody else's lab, and maybe getting credit for my work and maybe not
getting full credit? Or would I rather be an M.B.A. and making $150,000
and hiring Ph.D.'s?'"
So Many Grad Students
Economists and others who track the job market raise a heretical question: Is the United States educating too many scientists and engineers? The surprising answer coming from some quarters is an emphatic yes.
An article published this spring in Today's Engineer stated, "Many practicing engineers disagree with the recommendation to increase the number of U.S. citizens pursuing science and engineering studies and careers."
With wages stagnant and too few jobs for engineers, adding to the work force will only make those careers less attractive, says one of the authors, George F. McClure, a retired aerospace engineer who
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