Everyone knows that the United States has long suffered from widespread shortages in its science and engineering workforce, and that if continued these shortages will cause it to fall behind its major economic competitors. Everyone knows that these workforce shortages are due mainly to the myriad weaknesses of American K-12 education in science and mathematics, which international comparisons of student performance rank as average at best.
Such claims are now well established as conventional wisdom. There is almost no debate in the mainstream. They echo from corporate CEO to corporate CEO, from lobbyist to lobbyist, from editorial writer to editorial writer. But what if what everyone knows is wrong? What if this conventional wisdom is just the same claims ricocheting in an echo chamber?
The truth is that there is little credible evidence of the claimed widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce. How can the conventional wisdom be so different from the empirical evidence? There are of course many complexities involved that cannot be addressed here. The key points, though, are these:
Science and engineering occupations are at the leading edge of economic competitiveness in an increasingly globalized world, and science and engineering workforces of sufficient size and quality are essential for any 21st century economy to prosper. These professional workforces also are crucial for addressing challenges such as international security, global climate change, and domestic and global health. While they therefore are of great importance, college graduates employed in science and engineering occupations (as defined by the National Science Foundation) actually comprise only a small fraction of the workforce.