Dear Colleagues:

A columnist in the Washington Post recently made an interesting case for the liberal arts in which he highlighted something rarely mentioned in our collective thinking about the importance of STEM: Data.

As it happens, our collective hand-wringing over the relatively poor performance of U.S. students on international tests of mathematics and science has always been thus. Since 1964, when international comparisons first arose, the U.S. has never been a leader in test scores. Where we do outrank other nations is in innovation.

Data also suggest that we may have an oversupply of STEM college graduates. According to a recent Census Bureau report, three-quarters of STEM grads at the bachelor's degree level or higher do not go on to obtain jobs in STEM occupations, as noted in the Washington Post. According to one estimate, the U.S. economy is generating just 2.5 million STEM jobs annually for more than 4 million STEM grads.

Yet  Business Roundtable and other organizations continue to assert that there is a STEM worker shortage and that it is a major impediment to business growth.

In an Atlantic article, Harvard's Michael Teitelbaum talked about his new book, Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent, arguing that:

Such claims [about the STEM shortage] 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?

Citing multiple reports, Teitelbaum concludes that there is little credible evidence of widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce.

For students of history, you know that we've been here before. In 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, leading arguably to the first STEM education crisis. The National Defense Education Act (NDEA) was signed into law in 1958 in a press to create more mathematicians, engineers and the like. The first Vocational Education Act was passed five years later, in 1963, to address the changing world of work.

So much data, so little time. (But enough time to write! Email me at with your thoughts.)