Matching education with jobs? It's not happening. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal sums up the problem.
Brad Smith wrote that Mircosoft alone has more than 6,000 openings for software developers and engineers, openings that can't be filled. American universities are simply not turning out enough computer scientists and electrical engineers to meet demand.
According to Smith, the shortfall will get worse. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the U.S. will create 120,000 new jobs this year requiring at least a bachelor's degree in computer science. But higher education will turn out fewer than 40,000 new computer scientists.
The mismatch of college graduates with available jobs goes beyond computers. Openings in biotechnology and pharmacology are going unfilled. Engineers of all stripes are needed in most of our manufacturing sectors.
The U.S. Labor Department estimates about 1.8 million STEM jobs — science, technology, engineering and math — will open up by 2018. On our current trajectory, even with imported foreign scientists, we couldn't begin to fill those jobs.
The good news is that educators and politicians are starting to take notice. Most agree the first step is to amp up STEM education.
A new federal program will begin to address that in 2013. The plan is to train and fund "master teachers" in STEM courses. A public/private joint venture, the project will be financed by $1 billion of taxpayer money plus funding from private industry. It's not a huge commitment, but it's a start.
There's also activity in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott continues to push for STEM, even to suggest a lower tier of college tuition for STEM majors. And the Florida Legislature recently approved funding for a new polytechnical university devoted to science and engineering.
At the local level, Collier County School Superintendent Kamela Patton has made STEM education a priority. Currently, 14 of the 42 career programs are classified as STEM, and Patton intends to grow that number.
STEM activities are also being introduced in the early grades and even in preschool. Science fairs and STEM conferences are helping to raise the profile.
But matching education to jobs is more than a matter of national interest. It's a pocketbook issue for the many students who take on crippling debt in college. We're one of the most educated countries in the world — 42 percent have a tertiary education — but we turn out graduates who can't find work. The mismatch means the current $900 billion in college debt won't be paid back any time soon, if at all.
To be sure, STEM is not for everyone. But for those with the interest and aptitude, a degree in one of the sciences, in math or in engineering makes sense. The jobs are out there. The career is rewarding. And the return on investment should be good — for both the student and the country.