Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

Renewing National Attention to Undergraduate STEM Education

March 16, 2006

The critical need to give renewed national attention to the quality and character of our country’s undergraduate programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is being highlighted in many venues, most recently in the March 15, 2006 hearing of the Subcommittee on Research, Committee on Science of the U.S. House of Representatives. The over-arching questions posed to the panel of witnesses are:

  • what are the obstacles to recruiting and retaining majors in STEM fields, and what actions are being taken to overcome them?
  • What are the obstacles to implementing reforms in undergraduate STEM programs?
  • What role have federal agencies, particularly the National Science Foundation, played in improving undergraduate STEM? What more should federal agencies be doing?

This Hearing is but one strand in conversations that have been going for almost two decades, beginning with the NSB "Neal Report" that was a catalyst in the mid-1980’s for renewed attention to a critical link in the nation’s scientific and technological infrastructure. The many recent reports issued by public and disciplinary groups (see PKAL Report on Reports II) spotlight both what needs to be done, and what is being done, to build a robust STEM learning environment for the 15+ million undergraduates now in our nation’s colleges and universities. For example:

  • Business Higher Education Forum: "Higher education must redesign itself...Education must be engaging, flexible, and interactive. Forward-thinking institutions that can lead the way must pioneer innovative new efforts and become champions of redesign and learning."
  • Business Roundtable, et.al.: "We must focus, as quickly as possible, on...areas that affect the choices of students now in the pipeline.
  • Council on Competitiveness: "Universities [and colleges] should promote an innovation-oriented culture while maintaining a commitment to creating new knowledge at the frontiers of research."

We also link you to earlier documents from PKAL that address similar issues and can inform current and future discussions.