Here's a little piece of bad news from higher ed land, neatly described in a column by Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria: Americans don't do science anymore, and now we're not even willing to let in the foreign grad students who've been doing it for us.
Two serious problems are combining to lead to what sure looks like the inevitable decline of American leadership in science and technology. First, fewer and fewer American students major in a scientific discipline (in 1975, the U.S. ranked third in the proportion of students majoring in science or engineering; today, we rank 17th); and second, the foreign students who want to come to the U.S. to study and do scientific research find it increasingly difficult to get visas.
Zakaria makes the crucial connection between American primacy in higher education and the spread of western culture and ideas (including little things like democracy and free markets) throughout the world. Part of the reason we've been so successful in causing other nations to want to emulate us is because by and large, we educate their business, technology, and government leaders. When our universities are no longer the envy of the world, the best and brightest from elsewhere will no longer come here to be educated -- and in fact, many of them can't come here now because the process of getting a visa is so cumbersome.
It's a vicious circle. Zakaria thinks Condoleezza Rice will be able to do something about this as Secretary of State, and I hope that's true. But apparently we also need to do a better job of recruiting American students into science and engineering (says the humanities geek). And that won't happen until science and math education improves at the K-12 level. Gotta start somewhere...Posted by at November 29, 2004 4:30 PM