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Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future (2007)

Chapter:7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?

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Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
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7
What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?

BEST AND BRIGHTEST

Recommendation C: Make the United States the most attractive setting in which to study and perform research so that we can develop, recruit, and retain the best and brightest students, scientists, and engineers from within the United States and throughout the world.

We live in a knowledge-intensive world. “The key strategic resource necessary for prosperity has become knowledge itself in the form of educated people and their ideas,” as Jim Duderstadt and Farris Womack1 put it. In this context, the focus of global competition is no longer only on manufacturing and trade but also on the production of knowledge and the development and recruitment of the “best and brightest” from around the world. Developed and developing nations alike are investing in higher education, often on the model of US colleges and universities. They are training undergraduate and graduate scientists and engineers2 to provide the expertise they need to compete in creating jobs for their populations in the 21st-century economy. Numerous national public and private organizations3

1

J. J. Duderstadt and F. W. Womack. Beyond the Crossroads: The Future of the Public University in America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

2

Natural sciences and engineering is defined by the National Science Foundation as natural (physical, biological, earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences), agricultural, and computer sciences; mathematics; and engineering.

3

Some examples are National Science Board. The Science and Engineering Workforce: Realizing America’s Potential. NSB 03-69. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2003. Volume 1; Council on Competitiveness. Innovate America. Washington, DC: Council on Competitveness, 2004.

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

have recommended a national effort to increase the numbers of both domestic and international students pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees in the United States.4

There is concern that, in general, our undergraduates are not keeping up with those in other nations. The United States has increased the proportion of its college-age population earning first university degrees in the natural sciences and engineering over the last quarter-century, but it has still lost ground, now ranking 20th globally on this indicator.5

There are even more concerns about graduate education. In the 1990s, the enrollment of US citizens and permanent residents in graduate science and engineering programs declined substantially. Although enrollments began to rise again in 2001, by 2003 they had not yet returned to the peak numbers of the early 1990s.6 Meanwhile, the United States faces new challenges in the recruitment of international graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. Over the past several decades, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from throughout the world have come to the United States to take advantage of what has been the premier environment in which to learn and conduct research. As a result, international students now constitute more than a third of the students in US science and engineering graduate schools, up from less than one-fourth in 1982. More than half the international postdoctoral scholars are temporary residents, and half that group earned doctorates outside the United States.

Many of the international students educated in the United States choose to remain here after receiving their degrees, and they contribute much to our ability to create knowledge, produce technological innovations, and generate jobs throughout the economy. The proportion of international doctorate recipients remaining in the United States after receiving their degrees increased from 49% in the 1989 cohort to 71% in 2001.7 But the consequences of the events of September 11, 2001, included drastic changes in visa processing, and the number of international students applying to and enrolling in US graduate programs declined substantially. More recently, there have been signs of recovery; however, we are still falling short of earlier trends in attracting and retaining such students. As other nations develop their own systems of graduate education to recruit and retain more highly skilled students and professionals, often modeled after the US sys-

4

Another point of view presented in Box 7-1.

5

National Science Board. Science and Engineering Indicators 2004. NSB 04-01. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2004.

6

National Science Foundation. Graduate Enrollment in Science and Engineering Programs Up in 2003, but Declines for First-Time Foreign Students: Info Brief. NSF 05-317. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2005.

7

The National Academies. Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2005.

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

education system, our nation’s education and research enterprise must adjust so that it can continue to attract many of the best students from abroad.

The Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century proposes four actions to improve the talent pool in postsecondary education in the sciences and engineering: stimulate the interest of US citizens in undergraduate study by providing a new program of 4-year undergraduate scholarships; facilitate graduate education by providing new, portable fellowships; provide tax credits to companies and other organizations that provide continuing education for their practicing scientists and engineers; and recruit and retain the best and brightest students, scientists, and engineers worldwide by making the United States the most attractive place to study, conduct research, and commercialize technological innovations.

ACTION C-1:
UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION

Increase the number and proportion of US citizens who earn bachelor’s degrees in the physical sciences, the life sciences, engineering, and mathematics by providing 25,000 new 4-year competitive undergraduate scholarships each year to US citizens attending US institutions.


The Undergraduate Scholar Awards in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (USA-STEM) program would help to increase the percentage of 24-year-olds with first degrees in the natural sciences or engineering from the current 6% to the 10% benchmark already met or substatially surpassed by Finland, France, Taiwan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom (see Figure 3-17).8 To achieve this result, the committee recommends the following:

  • The National Science Foundation should administer the program.

  • The program should provide 25,000 new 4-year scholarships each year to US citizens attending domestic institutions to pursue bachelor’s degrees in science, mathematics, engineering, or another field designated as a national need. (Eventually, there would be 100,000 active students in the program each year.)

  • Eligibility for these awards and their allocation would be based on the results of a competitive national examination.

  • The scholarships would be distributed to states based on the size of their congressional delegations and would be awarded by states.

  • Recipients could use the scholarships at any accredited US institution.

8

In 2000, there were 3,711,400 24-year-olds in the United States, of whom 5.67% held bachelor’s degrees in the natural sciences and engineering.

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×
  • The scholarships would provide up to $20,000 per student to pay tuition and fees.

  • The program would also grant the recipients’ institutions $1,000 annually.

  • The $1.1 billion program would phase in over 4 years beginning at $275 million per year.

  • The federal government would grant funds to states to defray reasonable administrative expenses.

  • Steps would be taken to ensure that the receipt of USA-STEM scholarships brought considerable prestige to the recipients and to the secondary institutions from which they are graduating.

The undergraduate years have a profound influence on career direction, and they can provide a springboard for students who choose to major and then pursue graduate work in science, mathematics, and engineering. However, many more undergraduates express an interest in science, mathematics, and engineering than eventually complete bachelor’s degrees in those fields. A focused and sizeable national effort to stimulate undergraduate interest and commitment to these majors will increase the proportion of 24-year-olds achieving first degrees in the relevant disciplines.

The scholarship program’s motivation is twofold. First, in the long run, the United States might not have enough scientists and engineers to meet its national goals if the number of domestic students from all demographic groups, including women and students from underrepresented groups, does not increase in proportion to our nation’s need for them. It should be noted that there is always concern about the availability of jobs if the supply of scientists and engineers were to increase substantially. Although it is impossible to fine-tune the system such that supply and demand balance precisely in any given year, it is important to have sufficient numbers of graduates for the long-term outlook. Furthermore, it has been found that, for example, undergraduate training in engineering forms an excellent foundation for graduate work in such fields as business, law, and medicine. Finally, it is clear that an inadequate supply of scientists and engineers can be highly detrimental to the nation’s well-being.

The second motivation for the program is to ensure that the fields of science, engineering, and mathematics recruit and develop a large share of the best and brightest US students. It should be considered a great achievement to participate in the USA-STEM program, and the honor of selection should be accompanied by significant recognition. To retain eligibility, recipients would be expected to maintain a specified standard of academic excellence in their college coursework.

Increasing participation of underrepresented minorities is critical to ensuring a high-quality supply of scientists and engineers in the United States

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

over the long term. As minority groups increase as a percentage of the US population, increasing their participation rate in science and engineering is critical if we are just to maintain the overall participation rate in science among the US population.9 Perhaps even more important, if some groups are underrepresented in science and engineering in our society, we are not attracting as many of the most talented people to an important segment of our knowledge economy.10

In postsecondary education, there are many principles that help minority-group students succeed, regardless of field. The Building Engineering and Science Talent11 (BEST) committee outlined eight key principles to expand representation:

  • Institutional leadership: Committing to inclusiveness across the campus community.

  • Targeted recruitment: Investing in and supporting a K–12 feeder system.

  • Engaged faculty: Rewarding faculty for the development of student talent.

  • Personal attention: Addressing, through mentoring and tutoring, the learning needs of each student.

  • Peer support: Giving students opportunities for interaction that builds support across cohorts and promotes allegiance to an institution, discipline, and profession.

  • Enriched research experience: Offering beyond-the-classroom hands-on opportunities and summer internships that connect to the world of work.

  • Bridge to the next level: Fostering institutional relationships to show students and faculty the pathways to career development.

  • Continuous evaluation: Monitoring results and making appropriate program adjustments.

BEST goes on to note that even with all the design principles in place, comprehensive financial assistance for low-income students is critical be-

9

National Science and Technology Council. Ensuring a Strong US Scientific, Technical, and Engineering Workforce in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President of the United States, 2000; Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development. Land of Plenty: Diversity as America’s Competitive Edge in Science, Engineering, and Technology. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2000.

10

Fechter and Teitelbaum have argued that “underrepresentation is an indicator of talent that is not exploited to its fullest potential. Such underutilization, which can exist simultaneously with situations of abundance, represents a cost to society as well as to the individuals in these groups.” A. Fechter and M. S. Teitelbaum. “A Fresh Approach to Immigration.” Issues in Science and Technology 13(3)(1997):28-32.

11

Building Engineering and Science Talent (BEST). 2004. A Bridge for All: Higher Education Design Principles in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. San Diego, CA: BEST. Available at: http://www.bestworkforce.com.

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

cause socioeconomic status also is an important determinant of success in higher education.

ACTION C-2:
GRADUATE EDUCATION

The federal government should fund Graduate Scholar Awards in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (GSA-STEM), a new scholarship program that would provide 5,000 new portable 3-year competitively awarded graduate fellowships each year for outstanding US citizens in science, mathematics, and engineering programs pursuing degrees at US universities. Portable fellowships would provide funds directly to students, who would choose where they wish to pursue graduate studies instead of having to follow faculty research grants.


Typically, college seniors and recent graduates consider several factors in deciding whether to pursue graduate study. An abiding interest in a field and the encouragement of a mentor often contribute to the positive side of the balance sheet. The availability of financial support, the relative lack of income while in school, and job prospects upon completing an advanced degree also weigh on students’ minds, no matter how much society supports their choices. The National Defense Education Act was a tremendous stimulus to graduate study in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, but has been incrementally restricted to serve a broader set of goals (see Box 7-2). A similar effort is now called for to meet the nation’s long-term need for scientists and engineers in universities, government, nonprofit organizations, the national laboratory system, and industry.

The committee makes the following recommendations:

  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) should administer the program.

  • Recipients could use the grants at any US institution to which they have been admitted.

  • The program should be advised by a board of representatives from federal agencies who identify areas of national need.

  • Tuition and fee reimbursement would be up to $20,000 annually, and each recipient would receive an annual stipend of $30,000. Those amounts would be adjusted over time for inflation.

  • The program would be phased in over 3 years.

  • The federal government would provide appropriate funding to academic institutions to defray reasonable administrative expenses.

There has been much debate in recent years about whether the United States is facing a looming shortage of scientists and engineers, including

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

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: http://www.aau.edu.

  

bM. Parsons. “Higher Education Is Just Another Special Interest.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 51(22)(2005):B20. Available at: http://chronicle.com/prm/weekly/v51/i22/22b02001. htm.

  

cNational Security Workforce. Challenges and Solutions Web page. Available at: http://www.defenselink.mil/ddre/doc/NDEA_BRIEFING.pdf.

  

dSee http://www.defenselink.mil/ddre/nde2.htm 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.

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

those at the doctoral level. Although there is not a crisis at the moment and there are differences in labor markets by field that could lead to surpluses in some areas and shortages in others, the trends in enrollments and degrees are nonetheless cause for concern in a global environment wherein science and technology play an increasing role. The rationale for the fellowship is that the number of people with doctorates in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering awarded by US institutions each year has not kept pace with the increasing importance of science and technology to the nation’s prosperity.

Currently, the federal government supports 7,000 full-time graduate fellows and trainees. Most of these grants are provided either to institutions or directly to students by the NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship program and Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT) or by the National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award program. The US Department of Education, through its Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need program, also provides traineeships and has a mechanism for identifying areas for grant-making to academic programs. Those are important sources of support, but they meet only a fraction of the need. The proposed 5,000 new fellowships each year eventually will increase to 22,000 the number of graduate students supported at any one time, thus helping to increase the number of US citizens and permanent residents earning doctorates in nationally important fields.

Portable graduate fellowships should attract high-quality students and offer them access to the best education possible. Students who have unencumbered financial support could select the US academic institutions that best meet their interests and that offer the best opportunities to broaden their experience before they begin focusing on specific research. The fellowships would offer substantial and steady financial support during the early years of graduate study, with the assumption that the recipients would find support from other means, such as research assistantships, once research subjects and mentors were identified.

An alternative point of view is that the support provided under this recommendation should be provided not—or not only—to individuals but also to programs that would use the funds both to develop a comprehensive approach to doctoral education and to support students through traineeships. Such institutional grants could be used by federal funders to directly require specific programmatic changes as well. They would also allow institutions to recruit promising students who might not apply for portable fellowships.

But, in the view of the committee, providing fellowships directly to students creates a greater stimulus to enroll and offers an additional positive effect: improvement of educational quality. The fellowships create com-

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

petition among institutions that would lead to enhanced graduate programs (mentoring, course offerings, research opportunities, and facilities) and processes (time to degree, career guidance, placement assistance). To be sure, institutions can and should undertake many of those improvements in graduate programs even without this stimulus, and many have already implemented reforms to make graduate school more enticing. Institutional efforts to prepare graduate students for the jobs they will obtain in industry or academe and to improve the benefits and work conditions for postdoctoral scholars also could make career prospects more attractive.

The new program proposed here and led by NSF should draw advice from representatives of federal research agencies to determine its areas of focus. On the basis of that advice, NSF would make competitive awards either as part of its existing Graduate Research Fellowship program or through a separate program established specifically to administer the fellowships. The focus on areas of national need is important to ensure an adequate supply of suitably trained doctoral scientists, engineers, and mathematicians and appropriate employment opportunities for these students upon receipt of their degrees.

As discussed in Box 7-1, one question is whether these programs will simply produce science and engineering students who are unable to find jobs. There are also questions that the goal of increasing the number of domestic students is contrary to the committee’s other concern about the potential for declining numbers of outstanding international students. As past National Academies reports have indicated, projecting supply and demand in science and engineering employment is prone to methodological difficulties. For example, the report Forecasting Demand and Supply of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers: Report of a Workshop on Methodology (2000) observed:

The NSF should not produce or sponsor “official” forecasts of supply and demand of scientists and engineers, but should support scholarship to improve the quality of underlying data and methodology.

Those who have tried to forecast demand in the past have often failed abysmally. The same would probably be true today.

Other factors also influence the decisions of US students. As the recent COSEPUP study, Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States, says:

Recruiting domestic science and engineering (S&E) talent depends heavily on students’ perception of the S&E careers that await them. Those perceptions can be solidified early in the educational process, before students graduate from high school. The desirability of a career in S&E is determined largely by the

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

prospect of attractive employment opportunities in the field, and to a lesser extent by potential remuneration. Some aspects of the graduate education and training process can also influence students’ decisions to enter S&E fields. The “pull factors” include time to degree, availability of fellowships, research assistantships, or teaching assistantships, and whether a long post doctoral appointment is required after completion of the PhD.

Taking those factors into account, the committee decided to focus its scholarships for domestic students on areas of national need as determined by federal agencies, with input from the corporate and business community.

In the end, the employment market will dictate the decisions students make. From a national perspective, global competition in higher education and research and in the recruitment of students and scholars means that the United States must invest in the development and recruitment of the best and brightest from here and abroad to ensure that we have the talent, expertise, and ideas that will continue to spur innovation and keep our nation at the leading edge of science and technology.

ACTION C-3:
CONTINUING EDUCATION

To keep practicing scientists and engineers productive in an environment of rapidly changing science and technology, the federal government should provide tax credits to employers who help their eligible employees pursue continuing education.


The committee’s recommendations are as follows:

  • The federal government should authorize a tax credit of up to $500 million each year to encourage companies to sustain the knowledge and skills of their scientific and engineering workforce by offering opportunities for professional development.

  • The courses to be pursued would allow employees to maintain and upgrade knowledge in the specific fields of science and engineering.

  • The courses would be required to meet reasonable standards and could be offered internally or by colleges and universities.

Too often, business does not invest adequately in continuing education and training for employees, partly from the belief that investments could be lost if the training makes employees more marketable, and partly from the belief that maintaining skills is the personal responsibility of a professional. Tax credits would allow businesses to encourage continuing professional development—a benefit to employees, companies, and the economy.

Tax credits can also help industries adapt to technological change. The

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

information-technology industry, for example, has continuing difficulty in matching worker skills and employer demand. The consequence is that employers cite worker shortages even when there is relatively high unemployment. That mismatch can be remedied by encouraging companies to invest in retraining capable employees whose skills have become obsolete as the technology landscape changes.

ACTION C-4:
IMPROVE VISA PROCESSING

The federal government should continue to improve visa processing for international students and scholars to provide less complex procedures, and continue to make improvements on such issues as visa categories and duration, travel for scientific meetings, the technology alert list, reciprocity agreements, and changes in status.


Since 9/11, the nation has struggled to improve security by more closely screening international visitors, students, and workers. The federal government is now also considering tightening controls on the access that international students and researchers have to technical information and equipment. One consequence is that fewer of the best international scientists and engineers are able to come to the United States, and if they do enter the United States, their intellectual and geographic mobility is curtailed.

The post-9/11 approach fosters an image of the United States as a less than welcoming place for foreign scholars. At the same time, the home nations of many potential immigrants—such as China, India, Taiwan, and South Korea—are strengthening their own technology industries and universities and offering jobs and incentives to lure scientists and engineers to return to their nations of birth. Other countries have taken advantage of our tightened restrictions to open their doors more widely, and they recruit many who might otherwise have come to the United States to study or conduct research.

A growing challenge for policy-makers is to reconcile security needs with the flow of people and information from abroad. Restrictions on access to information and technology—much of it already freely available—could undermine the fundamental research that benefits so greatly from international participation. One must be particularly vigilant to ensure that thoughtful, high-level directives concerning homeland security are not unnecessarily amplified by administrators who focus on short-term safety while unintentionally weakening long-term overall national security. Any marginal benefits in the security arena have to be weighed against the ability of national research facilities to carry out unclassified, basic research and the ability of private companies with federal contracts to remain internationally competitive. An unbalanced increase in security will erode the

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

nation’s scientific and engineering productivity and economic strength and will destroy the welcoming atmosphere of our scientific and engineering institutions. Such restrictions would also add to the incentives for US companies to move operations overseas.

Many recent changes in visa processing and in the duration of Visas Mantis clearances have already made immigration easier. Visas Mantis is a program intended to provide additional security checks for visitors who may pose a security risk. The process, established in 1998 and applicable to all nonimmigrant visa categories, is triggered when a student or exchange-visitor applicant intends to study a subject on the technology alert list.

The committee endorses the recommendations made by the National Academies in Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States,12 particularly Recommendation 4-2, which states the following:

If the United States is to maintain leadership in S&E, visa and immigration policies should provide clear procedures that do not unnecessarily hinder the inflow of international graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. New regulations should be carefully considered in light of national-security considerations and potential unintended consequences.

  1. Visa Duration: Implementation of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), by which consular officials can verify student and postdoctoral status, and of the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT), by which student and scholar status can be monitored at the point of entry to the United States, should make it possible for graduate students’ and postdoctoral scholars’ visas to be more commensurate with their programs, with a duration of 4-5 years.

  2. Travel for Scientific Meetings: Means should be found to allow international graduate students and postdoctoral scholars who are attending or appointed at US institutions to attend scientific meetings that are outside the United States without being seriously delayed in re-entering the United States to complete their studies and training.

  3. Technology Alert List: This list, which is used to manage the Visas Mantis program, should be reviewed regularly by scientists and engineers. Scientifically trained personnel should be involved in the security-review process.

  4. Visa Categories: New nonimmigrant-visa categories should be created for doctoral-level graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. The categories should be exempted from the 214b (see Box 7-3) provision whereby applicants must show that they have a residence in a foreign country that they have no intention of abandoning. In addition to providing a better mechanism for em-

12

The National Academies. Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2005.

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

BOX 7-3

The 214b Provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act: Establishing the Intent to Return Home

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) has served as the primary body of law governing immigration and visa operations since 1952. A potential barrier to visits by foreign graduate students is Section 214(b) of the INA, in accordance with which an applicant for student of exchange visa must provide convincing evidence that he or she plans to return to the home country, including proof of a permanent domicile in the home country. Legitimate applicants may find it hard to prove that they have no intention to immigrate, especially if they have relatives in the United States. In addition, both students and immigration officials are well aware that an F or J visa often provides entrée to permanent-resident status. It is not surprising that application and enforcement of the standard can depend on pending immigration legislation or economic conditions.a

  

aG. Chelleraj, K. E. Maskus, and A. Mattoo. The Contributions of Skilled Immigration and International Graduate Students to US Innovation. Working Paper N04-10. Boulder, CO: Center for Economic Analysis, University of Colorado at Boulder, September 2004. P. 18 and Table 1.

bassy and consular officials to track student and scholar visa applicants, these categories would provide a means for collecting clear data on numbers and trends of graduate-student and postdoctoral-scholar visa applications.

  1. Reciprocity Agreements: Multiple-entry and multiple-year student visas should have high priority in reciprocity negotiations.

  2. Change of Status: If the United States wants to keep the best students once they graduate, procedures for change of status should be clarified and streamlined.

ACTION C-5:
EXTEND VISAS AND EXPEDITE RESIDENCE STATUS OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING PHDS

The federal government should provide a 1-year automatic visa extension to international students who receive doctorates or the equivalent in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or other fields of national need at qualified US institutions to remain in the United States to seek employment. If these students are offered jobs by US-based employers and pass a security screening test, they should be provided automatic work permits and expedited residence status. If students are unable to obtain employment within 1 year, their visas would expire.

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

To create the most attractive setting for study, research and commercialization—and to attract international students, scholars, scientists, engineers, and mathematicians—the United States government needs to take steps to encourage international students and scholars to remain in the United States. These steps should be taken because of the contributions these people make to the United States and their home country.

As discussed in COSEPUP’s international students report, a knowledge-driven economy is more productive if it has access to the best talent regardless of national origin. International graduate students and postdoctoral scholars are integral to the quality and effectiveness of the US science and engineering (S&E) enterprise. If the flow of these students and scholars were sharply reduced, research and academic work would suffer until an alternative source of talent were found. There would be a fairly immediate effect in university graduate departments and laboratories and a later cumulative effect on hiring in universities, industry, and government. There is no evidence that modest, gradual changes in the flow like those experienced in the recent past would have an adverse effect.

High-end innovation is a crucial factor for the success of the US economy. To maintain excellence in S&E research, which fuels high-end innovation, the United States must be able to recruit talented people. A substantial proportion of those talented people—students, postdoctoral scholars, and researchers—currently come from other countries.

The shift to staffing research and teaching positions at universities with nontenured staff, which depends in large part on a supply of international graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, should be the subject of a major study.

Multinational corporations (MNCs) hire international PhDs in similar proportion to the output of university graduate and postdoctoral programs. The proportion of international researchers in several large MNCs is around 30-50%. MNCs appreciate international diversity in their research staff. They pay foreign-born and domestic researchers the same salaries, which are based on degree, school, and benchmarks in the industry.

It is neither possible nor desirable to restrict US S&E positions to US citizens; this could reduce industries’ and universities’ access to much of the world’s talent and remove a substantial element of diversity from our society.

One study of Silicon Valley illustrates the importance of international scientists and engineers to the US economy. It found that

By the end of the 1990s, Chinese and Indian engineers were running 29 percent of Silicon Valley’s technology businesses. By 2000, these companies collectively accounted for more than $19.5 billion in sales and 72,839 jobs. And the pace of immigrant entrepreneurship has accelerated dramatically in the last decade….

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

Far beyond their role in Silicon Valley, the professional and social networks that link new immigrant entrepreneurs with each other have become global institutions that connect new immigrants with their counterparts at home. These new transnational communities provide the shared information, contacts, and trust that allow local producers to participate in an increasingly global economy.


Silicon Valley’s Taiwanese engineers, for example, have built a vibrant two-way bridge connecting them with Taiwan’s technology community. Their Indian counterparts have become key middlemen linking U.S. businesses to low-cost software expertise in India. These cross-Pacific networks give skilled immigrants a big edge over mainstream competitors who often lack the language skills, cultural know-how, and contacts to build business relationships in Asia. The long-distance networks are accelerating the globalization of labor markets and enhancing opportunities for entrepreneurship, investment, and trade both in the United States and in newly emerging regions in Asia.13


In response to those findings, the committee, in this proposed action, is endorsing a recommendation made by the Council on Competitiveness in its report Innovate America14 to extend a 1-year automatic visa extension to international students who receive doctorates or the equivalent in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or other fields of national need at qualified US institutions to remain in the United States to seek employment. If these students are offered jobs by US-based employers and pass a security screening test, they should be provided automatic work permits and expedited residence status. If students are unable to obtain employment within 1 year, their visas would expire.

ACTION C-6:
SKILLS-BASED IMMIGRATION

The federal government should institute a new skills-based, preferential immigration option. Doctoral-level education and science and engineering skills would substantially raise an applicant’s chances and priority in obtaining US citizenship. In the interim, the number of H-1B visas should be increased by 10,000, and the additional visas should be available for industry to hire science and engineering applicants with doctorates from US universities.15

13

A. Saxenian. “Brain Circulation: How High-Skill Immigration Makes Everyone Better Off.” The Brookings Review 20(1)(Winter 2002). Washington, DC: The Brookings Institute, 2002.

14

Council on Competitiveness. Innovate America. Washington, DC: Council on Competitiveness, 2004.

15

Since the report was released, the committee has learned that the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005, signed into law on December 8, 2004, exempts individuals that have received a master’s or higher education degree from a US university from the statutory cap (up to

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

As discussed in the previous section, highly skilled immigrants make a major contribution to US education, research, entrepreneurship, and society. Therefore, it is important to encourage not only students and scholars to stay, but also other people with science, engineering, and mathematics PhDs regardless of where they receive their PhDs.

For the United States to remain competitive with Europe, Canada, and Australia in attracting these international highly skilled workers, the United States should implement a points-based immigration system. As discussed in a recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report,16 skill-based immigration points systems, although not widespread, are starting to develop. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK use such systems to recruit highly skilled workers. The Czech Republic set up a pilot project that started in 2004.

In 2004, the European Union Justice and International Affairs council adopted a recommendation to facilitate researchers from non-EU countries, which asks member states to waive requirements for residence permits or to issue them automatically or through a fast-track procedure and to set no quotas that would restrict their admission. Permits should be renewable and family reunification facilitated. The European Commission has adopted a directive for a special admissions procedure for third-world nationals coming to the EU to perform research. This procedure will be in force in 2006.

  • Canada has put into place a points-based program aimed at fulfilling its policy objectives for migration, particularly in relation to the labor-market situation. The admission of skilled workers depends more on human capital (language skills and diplomas, professional skills, and adaptability) than on specific abilities.17 Canada has also instituted a business-immigrant selection program to attract investors, entrepreneurs, and self-employed workers.

20,000). The bill also raised the H-1B fee and allocated funds to train American workers. The committee believes that this provision is sufficient to respond to its recommendation—even though the 10,000 additional visas recommended is specifically for science and engineering doctoral candidates from US universities, which is a narrower subgroup.

16

Unless otherwise noted, policies listed are from an overview presented in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Trends in International Migration: 2004 Annual Report. Paris: OECD, 2005. OECD members countries include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

17

Applicants can check online their chances to qualify for migration to Canada as skilled workers. A points score is automatically calculated to determine entry to Canada under the Skilled Worker category. See Canadian Immigration Points Calculator Web site at: http://www.workpermit.com/canada/points_calculator.htm.

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×
  • Germany instituted a new immigration law on July 9, 2004. Among its provisions, in the realm of migration for employment, it encourages settlement by high-skilled workers, who are eligible immediately for permanent residence permits. Family members who accompany them or subsequently join them have access to the labor market. Like Canada, Germany encourages the immigration of self-employed persons, who are granted temporary residence permits if they invest a minimum of 1 million euros and create at least 10 jobs. Issuance of work permits and residence permits has been consolidated. The Office for Foreigners will issue both permits concurrently, and the Labor Administration subsequently approves the work permit.

  • UK18 The UK Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) is an immigration category for entry to the UK for successful people with sought-after skills. It is in some ways similar to the skilled migration programs for entry to Australia and Canada. The UK has added an MBA provision to the HSMP. Eligibility for HSMP visas is assessed on a points system with more points awarded in the following situations:

    • Preference for applicants under 28 years old.

    • Skilled migrants with tertiary qualifications.

    • High-level work experience.

    • Past earnings.

    • In a few rare cases, HSMP points are also awarded if one has an achievement in one’s chosen field.

    • One may also score bonus points if one is a skilled migrant seeking to bring a spouse or partner who also has high-level skills and work experience.

  • Australia encourages immigration of skilled migrants, who are as sessed on a points system with points awarded for work experience, qualifications, and language proficiency.19 Applicants must demonstrate skills in specific job categories.

18

The UK Highly Skilled Migrant Programme Web page also has a points calculator. Available at: http://www.workpermit.com/uk/highly_skilled_migrant_program.htm.

19

See points calculator at: http://www.workpermit.com/australia/point_calculator.htm.

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

ACTION C-7:
REFORM THE CURRENT SYSTEM OF “DEEMED EXPORTS”20

The current system of “deemed export” should be reformed. The new system should provide international students and researchers engaged in fundamental research in the United States with access to information and research equipment in US industrial, academic, and national laboratories comparable with the access provided to US citizens and permanent residents in a similar status. It would, of course, exclude information and facilities restricted under national security regulations. In addition, the effect of deemed-exports regulations on the education and fundamental research work of international students and scholars should be limited by removing from the deemed-exports technology list all technology items (information and equipment) that are available for purchase on the overseas open market from foreign or US companies or that have manuals that are available in the public domain, in libraries, over the Internet, or from manufacturers.


The controls governed by the Export Administration Act and its implementing regulations extend to the transfer of “technology.” Technology is considered “specific information necessary for the ‘development,’ ‘production,’ or ‘use’ of a product,” and providing such information to a foreign national within the United States may be considered a “deemed export” whose transfer requires an export license21 (italics added). The primary responsibility for administering deemed exports lies with the Department of Commerce (DOC), but other agencies may have regulations to address the issue. Deemed exports are currently the subject of significant controversy.

20

The controls governed by the Export Administration Act and its implementing regulations extend to the transfer of technology. Technology includes “specific information necessary for the ‘development,’ ‘production,’ or ‘use’ of a product” [emphasis added]. Providing information that is subject to export controls—for example, about some kinds of computer hardware—to a foreign national within the United States may be “deemed” an export, and that transfer requires an export license. The primary responsibility for administering controls on deemed exports lies with the Department of Commerce, but other agencies have regulatory authority as well.

21

“Generally, technologies subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) are those which are in the United States or of US origin, in whole or in part. Most are proprietary. Technologies which tend to require licensing for transfer to foreign nationals are also dual-use (i.e., have both civil and military applications) and are subject to one or more control regimes, such as National Security, Nuclear Proliferation, Missile Technology, or Chemical and Biological Warfare.” (“Deemed Exports” Questions and Answers, Bureau of Industry and Security, Department of Commerce.) The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), administered by the Department of State, control the export of technology, including technical information, related to items on the US Munitions List. Unlike the EAR, however, “publicly available scientific and technical information and academic exchanges and information presented at scientific meetings are not treated as controlled technical data.”

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×

In 2000, Congress mandated annual reports by agency offices of inspector general (IG) on the transfer of militarily sensitive technology to countries and entities of concern; the 2004 reports focused on deemed exports. The individual agency IG reports and a joint interagency report concluded that enforcement of deemed-export regulations had been ineffective; most of the agency reports recommended particular regulatory remedies.22

DOC sought comments from the public about the recommendations from its IG before proposing any changes. The department earned praise for this effort to reach out to potentially affected groups and is currently reviewing the 300 plus comments it received, including those from the leaders of the National Academies.23

On July 12, 2005, the Department of Defense (DOD) issued a notice in the Federal Register seeking comments on a proposal to amend the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) to address requirements for preventing unauthorized disclosure of export-controlled information and technology under DOD contracts that follow the recommendations in its IG report. The proposed regulation includes a requirement for access-control plans covering unique badging requirements for foreign workers and segregated work areas for export-controlled information and technology, and it does not mention the fundamental-research exemption.24 Comments were due by September 12, 2005.

Many of the comments in response to DOC expressed concern that the proposed changes were not based on systematic data or analysis and could have a significant negative effect on the conduct of research in both universities and the private sector, especially in companies with a substantial number of employees who are not US citizens.

CONCLUSION

The knowledge-driven global economy compels America to develop and recruit the finest experts available. Our students and our society prospered under a system of higher education and research that was the global leader in the second half of the 20th century. For a half-century at least, the United States has attracted graduate students and scholars from around the world. The system worked to our benefit, and it cannot now be taken for granted.

22

Reports were produced by DOC, DOD, the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Only the interagency report and the reports from DOC, DOD, and DOE are publicly available.

23

The letter from the presidents of the National Academies may be found at: http://www7.nationalacademies.org/rscans/Academy_Presidents_Comments_to_DOC.PDF.

24

Federal Register 70(132)(July 2005):39976-39978. Available at: http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20051800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2005/05-13305.htm.

Suggested Citation:"7 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Higher Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11463.
×
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×
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×
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×
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×
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×
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×
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×
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×
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×
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×
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×
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In a world where advanced knowledge is widespread and low-cost labor is readily available, U.S. advantages in the marketplace and in science and technology have begun to erode. A comprehensive and coordinated federal effort is urgently needed to bolster U.S. competitiveness and pre-eminence in these areas. This congressionally requested report by a pre-eminent committee makes four recommendations along with 20 implementation actions that federal policy-makers should take to create high-quality jobs and focus new science and technology efforts on meeting the nation's needs, especially in the area of clean, affordable energy:

1) Increase America's talent pool by vastly improving K-12 mathematics and science education;

2) Sustain and strengthen the nation's commitment to long-term basic research;

3) Develop, recruit, and retain top students, scientists, and engineers from both the U.S. and abroad; and

4) Ensure that the United States is the premier place in the world for innovation.

Some actions will involve changing existing laws, while others will require financial support that would come from reallocating existing budgets or increasing them. Rising Above the Gathering Storm will be of great interest to federal and state government agencies, educators and schools, public decision makers, research sponsors, regulatory analysts, and scholars.

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