Council on Postsecondary Education
STEM OP-ED BY ALLYSON HANDLEY- COUNCIL ON POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION
As most parents and teachers know, five-year old children are natural scientists and philosophers who pursue a tireless and sometimes exhausting quest to know and understand the world around them. A sense of wonder and curiosity consume much of a child’s waking hours. Sadly and inevitably that natural curiosity is often lost, buried or abandoned as the child grows up. However, many children retain that curiosity and wonder. With personal determination, creativity and effective learning environments, some children become the adult researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs who have fueled the American economy.
Education transforms people and has the power to forever change lives in profound, meaningful and positive ways. As a former high school teacher, elementary school principal, dean of a college of education, faculty member, and president of two colleges, it has been my privilege to personally witness the impact that learning and knowledge exert on students of all ages. Ideally, educators and schools provide the environment, the tools and the opportunity for children, adolescents and adults to learn about themselves and the society in which we live. The current and future welfare of Kentucky and the nation is directly tied to the educational attainment of our citizens. The Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997 was enacted by our legislature to significantly improve the quality of life and standard of living for all Kentuckians. In order to improve the economy of Kentucky, we must prepare Kentuckians for the 21st century workplace.
Currently, our nation is facing an urgent crisis in subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Statistics demonstrate that America’s leadership in the science and mathematics disciplines is deteriorating rapidly. Thirty years ago the United States ranked third worldwide in the number of science graduates we produced; now we rank 17th.
Over 20 recent national reports have documented the urgent American crisis in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. Science and mathematics hold the key to the future prosperity of the Commonwealth.
On February 8, 2006, Congress implemented two new student grant programs for Pell-eligible (undergraduate students who demonstrate high financial need) American students – the Academic Competitiveness (AC) Grants and the Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grants. In recognition of the severity of the science and engineering crisis, the federal government will allocate$6 billion for the federal AC and SMART Grants over the next five years.. Qualified Pell-eligible students may apply for the SMART Grants through completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. SMART Grants range from $750 for freshman to $4,000 for junior or senior students who study or major in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines or critical foreign languages.
The Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) took formal action in November 2006 to appoint a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Task Force comprised of 110 leaders from the government, business, K-12 and higher education sectors. On March 20, 2007 the CPE STEM Task Force, chaired by University of Kentucky President Lee Todd, released its report entitled Kentucky’s STEM Imperative: Competing in the Global Economy. The report includes eight interrelated recommendations that create a bold and comprehensive plan to enhance Kentucky’s performance in the STEM disciplines. The creation of 21st century jobs in Kentucky depends upon STEM-educated workers. The online version of the report is available at the CPE website (http://cpe.ky.gov).
The future of our children and grandchildren depends upon Kentucky’s ability to improve the science, technology, engineering and mathematics achievement of our young people. The CPE STEM Task Force demonstrated the determination and collaboration that diverse stakeholders and organizations could achieve in the best interests of our children. Recommending and doing the right thing for our children should not be about politics, special interest groups, personal agendas or resistance to change. We know what needs to be done to ensure that Kentucky’s children have every opportunity to compete successfully in our increasingly global economy. Let’s just do it!
We invite your comment and your participation in securing Kentucky’s future through the implementation of the CPE STEM Task Force recommendations.
About the author: Dr. Allyson Hughes-Handley is the senior policy advisor for postsecondary economic development initiatives at the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.