Why universities need to reform STEM education to protect economy

Heather Wilson and Suresh Garimella, Opinion contributors
Published 6:02 a.m. ET Dec. 3, 2020

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The process to elect the U.S. Rhodes Scholars for 2021 has been completed virtually for the first time as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the globe. Among the winners is Swathi Srinivasan, a senior at Harvard University from Beachwood, Ohio. (Nov. 22)

AP Domestic

To thrive, minorities and women in STEM need to feel like they belong. Too often, they don’t.

During a fractious election season, most Democrats and Republicans could agree on one issue: A bright future for America relies heavily on scientific and technical innovation — in health care, energy, infrastructure development, communication and food production.

But a bedrock assumption — that we will continue to have the skilled workforce to propel us forward — is in doubt.

The number of foreign students applying to American graduate programs in the STEM disciplines, where they currently fill about half the Ph.D. and post-doctoral slots and often join American companies or start their own after graduating, has declined significantly in recent years.

If foreign enrollment in these graduate programs continues to fall, where will we find the next generation of engineers and scientists the country will desperately need?

As the presidents of two very different institutions — one on the southwestern U.S. border with a majority-minority enrollment, the other near the northern border in a politically progressive but ethnically homogenous state — we believe we have an answer that could serve as common ground. We must nurture the millions of students in America from underrepresented groups who either don’t go to college, avoid the STEM disciplines if they do, or drop out of these majors if they choose them.

These talented young people, whom the National Science Foundation called the “missing millions” in a recent report, deserve the fulfilling careers and financial security STEM jobs offer. Moreover, America needs them if we are to thrive in the 21st century.

Several recent studies found that students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds entered college as STEM majors at about the same rate — about 20% of white, Black and Hispanic students. But Black and Hispanic students left STEM majors at much higher rates than white students — 40% for Black students and 37% for Hispanic students versus 29% for white students. (Photo: gorodenkoff / Getty Images)

The major obstacle keeping the missing millions from pursuing careers in STEM isn’t what you’d expect, according to NSF-funded research. Access to advanced mathematics and science curricula at the K-12 level, exacerbated by COVID-19, remains uneven. But when researchers controlled for access, they found that the larger issue is creating an environment of encouragement and care for these students once they arrive at our campuses.

To thrive, minorities and women in STEM need to feel like they belong. Too often, they don’t.

Several recent studies found that students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds entered college as STEM majors at about the same rate — about 20% of white, Black and

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China Economy Revving Up As Western World Prepares For Crises

China’s economy is revving up as the entirety of the Western World — from Australia to the United States — is either bracing for a ‘dark winter’ or dealing with small business closures by the thousands.

Earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci said SARS 2 death rates could easily surpass 400,000 by March.

According to Yelp, an online review forum for businesses, some 60% of the 163,735 businesses that are on Yelp have closed since March. Nearly 97,9oo of them said they were going out of business, according to a Yelp report in September.

Other data points about the pandemic’s impact on American businesses are more sanguine.

A study by researchers at the University of Illinois, Harvard Business School and the University of Chicago suggests that only 2% of small businesses are gone, though that was conducted in May.

Disney
DIS
said it would lay off 32,000 employees at its resorts in the U.S. But no word about laying them off at Hong Kong Disneyland or Shanghai Disney.

The U.S. stock market may have been humming along on the hopes that the pandemic was winding down, and Congress would dump trillions of stimulus into the economy. But now the ‘dark winter’ narrative is starting to play out. Barring a bazooka stimulus in the U.S. and Europe that is designed to keep small businesses alive and laid off workers financially sound, it is hard not to view China as the winner in the pandemic.

As most of the Western World has taken to rumors of lockdowns, deaths, and even greater panic attacks to come, China — whose citizens are already under the control of its government — is able to itself to Wall Street as the place to be.

About two weeks ago, Ray Dalio said that if the U.S. and Europe are going to be cowering for the next six months until there’s a cure or 60% of their populations are vaccinated with a new drug, then capital is just going to flow where there’s growth and some semblance of predictability. And that’s China.

“It’s called state capitalism, but they’ll produce more billionaires than the U.S.,” Dalio said. “I think capitalism and the development of the capital markets could, in a few years, be more embraced in China than they are in the U.S.”

In other words, top down management of the economy by unelected officials steering money towards favorite sectors — in China’s case, semiconductors, all forms of green tech, and pharmaceuticals — and protectionism.

Here’s how China’s economy.

  • Industrial profit growth surged to 28.2% annualized in
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As China’s economy picks up, new university grads are still looking for jobs

Graduates attend the commencement ceremony at Beihang University in Beijing, capital of China, June 29, 2020.

Ren Chao | Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

BEIJING — As China presses on with its economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, new university graduates are still trying to catch up.

By official and third-party accounts, the class of 2020 — at a record high of 8.74 million students — is having a harder time finding jobs than last year’s graduates.

There’s been a clear decline in hiring by the consumer goods industry, manufacturing, software and information technology services as a result of Covid-19’s spread, according to a report on prospects for China’s new graduates. The report “University Alumni Insights: Chinese Graduate Career Development Prospects 2020” was released Thursday by LinkedIn China and Beijing-based think tank Center for China and Globalization (CCG).

On the other hand, the health care, distance learning and legal industries have been less affected by the pandemic, and the number of people they are recruiting has remained relatively stable, the report said.

In fact, the analysis found there is a shortage of talent in the transportation and logistics, media and education sectors.

Covid-19 first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, before spreading quickly within the country in January and February. Authorities temporarily shut down more than half the country in February.

The outbreak stalled domestically in March, but by that time, the coronavirus had spread rapidly overseas in a global pandemic. China’s economy contracted 6.8% in the first quarter. While officials are optimistic about the subsequent recovery, they remain cautious about uncertainty from the coronavirus’ continued spread abroad.

There will be more and more (study abroad) returnees… For them to return to China to get jobs, they face lots of challenges.

Miao Lu

vice president, Center for China and Globalization

“There are certainly many higher-education graduates who are still looking for jobs, and the class of 2021 will soon enter the job market,” Zhang Ying, director of the employment promotion department at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, said Wednesday, according to a CNBC translation of her Mandarin-language remarks.

Zhang said the government will continue to add policy support, including expansion of hiring by state-owned enterprises. She noted the public sector has absorbed 2.8 million of the graduates.

Graduates attend the commencement ceremony at Beihang University in Beijing, capital of China, June 29, 2020.

Ren Chao | Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

Earlier this month, the National Bureau of Statistics said an unspecified unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds holding at least a college degree — primarily new graduates — was 4 percentage points higher in September than a year ago, despite falling slightly from August.

Overall unemployment for urban areas as measured by an official survey — which many economists doubt the accuracy of —showed the rate fell to 5.4% in September from 5.6% in August. Anecdotally, many workers have had their pay cut or deferred. The statistics bureau said late

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Virginians feel OK about their finances, gloomier about the economy

Most Virginians — 62% — say they feel good about their personal financial situations but fewer than half feel that way about the national, state or local economy, a new Hampton University-Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found.

Some two-thirds of Virginia voters say they’ve been spending less since the pandemic hit — but they also don’t seem to be saving more or paying down debts any faster than usual, the poll found. The poll found 55% aren’t saving more and 67% aren’t paying down debt any faster.

Roughly three-quarters say small businesses have not had enough help from the government, and 70% say individuals are also not getting enough financial assistance. But 55% say large corporations got too much help. And a majority think the economy will remain slow or even worsen over the next year.

“Virginia voters are not optimistic about either the local or national economy,” said Kelly Harvey-Viney, director of Hampton University’s Center for Public Policy.

“However, most of the registered voters surveyed continue to support the current economic restrictions to prevent furthering the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

Two-thirds say restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should remain a priority, even if the economy suffers. Most have questions about vaccination, though: 19% said they will not get a vaccine and 38% said they are not sure.

“Concerns about side effects and the vaccine development process are driving the skepticism,” said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center.

The survey also asked about voters’ views on race, and found that 61% consider racism in the United States an extremely or very serious problem. Most said that race relations are more strained now than in recent years, while younger voters are more likely than older ones to see racism as a problem locally or in the state.

“The contrast of the perception of racism among the young and older voters here in Virginia illustrates the divisiveness gripping the nation and the Commonwealth of Virginia regarding racism and race relations and how it continues to be problematic,” said Harvey-Viney.

The statewide survey of 887 registered voters was conducted from Oct. 6 to Oct 12. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points. The survey did not ask who voters would support.

Among other findings:

*While 66% think their city or county is headed in the right direction and 56% say the same about the state, only 28% say the same about the nation.

*More than four times as many Virginians plan on voting before Election day than had done so in the past: 59% now versus the usual 13%.

*52% of Virginia voters in Virginia view former Vice President Joe Biden favorably, while 39% feel the same about President Trump.

*42% think a Biden administration would do well coping with the pandemic compared to 27% who say that about the Trump administration.

*43% think Biden would do better handling race relations, while 24% say Trump would.

*38% say Trump

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Globalized economy making water, energy and land insecurity worse: study

globalisation
Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

The first large-scale study of the risks that countries face from dependence on water, energy and land resources has found that globalisation may be decreasing, rather than increasing, the security of global supply chains.


Countries meet their needs for goods and services through domestic production and international trade. As a result, countries place pressures on natural resources both within and beyond their borders.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge used macroeconomic data to quantify these pressures. They found that the vast majority of countries and industrial sectors are highly exposed both directly, via domestic production, and indirectly, via imports, to over-exploited and insecure water, energy and land resources. However, the researchers found that the greatest resource risk is due to international trade, mainly from remote countries.

The researchers are calling for an urgent enquiry into the scale and source of consumed goods and services, both in individual countries and globally, as economies seek to rebuild in the wake of COVID-19. Their study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, also invites critical reflection on whether globalisation is compatible with achieving sustainable and resilient supply chains.

Over the past several decades, the worldwide economy has become highly interconnected through globalisation: it is now not uncommon for each component of a particular product to originate from a different country. Globalisation allows companies to make their products almost anywhere in the world in order to keep costs down.

Many mainstream economists argue this offers countries a source of competitive advantage and growth potential. However, many nations impose demands on already stressed resources in other countries in order to satisfy their own high levels of consumption.

This interconnectedness also increases the amount of risk at each step of a global supply chain. For example, the UK imports 50% of its food. A drought, flood or any severe weather event in another country puts these food imports at risk.

Now, the researchers have quantified the global water, land and energy use of189 countries and shown that countries which are highly dependent on trade are potentially more at risk from resource insecurity, especially as climate change continues to accelerate and severe weather events such as droughts and floods become more common.

“There has been plenty of research comparing countries in terms of their water, energy and land footprints, but what hasn’t been studied is the scale and source of their risks,” said Dr. Oliver Taherzadeh from Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “We found that the role of trade has been massively underplayed as a source of resource insecurity—it’s actually a bigger source of risk than domestic production.”

To date, resource use studies have been limited to certain regions or sectors, which prevents a systematic overview of resource pressures and their source. This study offers a flexible approach to examining pressures across the system at various geographical and sectoral scales.

“This type of analysis hasn’t been carried out for a large number of countries before,” said Taherzadeh. “By quantifying the pressures that our

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Free trials for education and entertainment platforms spur massive growth in subscription economy

Consumers have increasingly turned to subscription services since the coronavirus pandemic began to change everyday life in March.

Television streaming video. Media TV on demand

Image: simpson33, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Subscription businesses have seen skyrocketing rates of growth since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a detailed study from Recurly, a company that helps thousands of companies manage subscription platforms. The report compares subscription rates from the week of March 9, 2020, to the time period of March 16, 2020 to June 29, 2020, finding that industries like digital entertainment and education technology saw massive increases in interest because of the changes forced on society by the pandemic.

SEE: Big data’s role in COVID-19 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The move to remote learning led to an almost overnight spike in demand for education-related subscription services like Kahoot! and Quizlet that helped teachers give quizzes and students work on projects together. According to the report, new free trials for education peaked in the week of 3/23 with an increase of 327%.

Stay-at-home orders across the world similarly contributed to burgeoning interest in subscription-based entertainment, software, and consumer goods/e-commerce platforms.

“In many ways, COVID-19 has accelerated us to the future, because the convenience factor of subscriptions that have been appealing to subscribers has only been furthered now that they are reconsidering the true cost of going to the store or the mall, browsing aisles and racks, finding something they like and then bringing it home,” Recurly CEO and founder Dan Burkhart said in an interview. 

“Consumers are looking at subscriptions as a little bit of a form of entertainment and a little bit of a self-soothing balm to engage with some of these offerings that are out there in the form of box-of-the-month type deliveries. Perhaps it’s a way that folks are keeping themselves happy.”

One of the biggest ways subscription services were able to lure people in was through free trials. Hundreds of companies offered week or month-long free trials that had high rates of conversion to full membership plans. 

In the last two weeks of March, there were 120% and 101% increases in new trials respectively, which continued into April at rates of 20%-30%. But by May, things started to level off, with the massive increases in the education and digital media sectors being offset by the huge drop-offs with travel, hospitality and entertainment.

The steep losses the study found with the venue-based entertainment industry mask the growth seen in almost every other sector. 

Burkhart explained that these businesses relied almost entirely on travel or foot traffic and that CDC guidelines brought subscription numbers essentially to zero. He said that Recurly works with a number of movie theater chains on digital ticket subscription services and noted that a number of these businesses have been in the news recently due to their significant financial struggles. 

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

A number of software, e-commerce, and professional service platforms saw spikes in new trials as well. The free trials led to concrete gains in almost every industry

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COVID-19 pushes college students to drop out, which could devastate economy and their lives

Jasmine Justice hit her breaking point during the last week of September.

Trump urges colleges to keep in-person learning

UP NEXT

UP NEXT

Overwhelmed at the juggling act of three full-time gigs – as a community college student, an employee and a mom – Justice crumbled. She ignored reminder emails from her instructors to send in her assignments. “I wasn’t comprehending what I was reading. I was looking at diagrams that made no sense.” On Zoom work meetings, she noted her pale complexion and dark under-eye circles. Her appetite disappeared. She snapped at her 17-year-old daughter, Josiah, a high school senior also cooped up inside their small apartment. 

“Being a community college student, it’s a balancing act,” says Justice, 39, a student at Pierce College in Lakewood, Washington, about 50 miles south of Seattle. “And at any moment, the scales could tip.” 

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Across the country, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend normalcy and infects Americans, students of every level are trying to adjust to virtual learning and socially distanced schools. But the virus and the ensuing recession have taken a particularly hard toll on community college students like Justice. They’re often older, balancing school and full-time work. Many are single parents. Statistically, they’re often the first in their family to pursue post-secondary education and likely to come from a lower socioeconomic bracket – which impacts access to distance learning necessities like high-speed internet. 



At Southern State Community College in Ohio, enrollment has dropped 16% even as the campus welcomed students back for some in-person learning -- provided they were wearing masks.


© Courtesy Southern State Community College
At Southern State Community College in Ohio, enrollment has dropped 16% even as the campus welcomed students back for some in-person learning — provided they were wearing masks.

And during the pandemic, they’re dropping out or sidelining their education plans. For these students, delaying their education could have devastating consequences.

Rethinking college during coronavirus? You risk not graduating

Race- and class-based gaps already rampant in college achievement could grow to a gaping chasm, experts fear, long after the virus is under control.

“We’ve never experienced anything like (the pandemic) in our lifetime. … The majority of our students are lower-income earners, and if faced with, ‘How am I going to put food on the table?’ versus ‘How am I going to take a class at community college?’ we know what one they’re going to pick,” says Martha Parham at the American Association of Community Colleges. “We already see evidence that the gap is widening – but how do you plan for that when you’re building the plane in flight for the students you have?”

Enrollment is already down 8% nationwide – unusual during a recession – and the economic impact could be significant. Community college programs tend to graduate students who feed directly into the workforce, people like nurses, electricians, mechanics and dental hygienists. In 2012, for example, community college-educated workers added roughly $800 billion to the U.S. economy.

Will students show up for college in fall 2020? Community colleges offer a hint.

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COVID-19 is pushing these college students to drop out. That could devastate the economy and their lives.

Jasmine Justice hit her breaking point during the last week of September.

Trump urges colleges to keep in-person learning

UP NEXT

UP NEXT

Overwhelmed at the juggling act of three full-time gigs — as a community college student, an employee and a mom — Justice crumbled. She ignored reminder emails from her instructors to send in her assignments. “I wasn’t comprehending what I was reading. I was looking at diagrams that made no sense.” On Zoom work meetings, she noted her pale complexion and dark under-eye circles. Her appetite disappeared. She snapped at her 17-year-old daughter, Josiah, a high school senior also cooped up inside their small apartment. 

“Being a community college student, it’s a balancing act,” says Justice, 39, a student at Pierce College in Lakewood, Washington, about 50 miles south of Seattle. “And at any moment, the scales could tip.” 

Start the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.

Across the country, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend normalcy and infect Americans, students of every level are trying to adjust to virtual learning and socially distanced schools. But the virus and the ensuing recession have taken a particularly hard toll on community college students like Justice. They’re often older, balancing school and full-time work. Many are single parents. Statistically, they’re often the first in their family to pursue post-secondary education and likely to come from a lower socioeconomic bracket — which impacts access to distance learning necessities like high-speed internet. 



At Southern State Community College in Ohio, enrollment has dropped 16% even as the campus welcomed students back for some in-person learning -- provided they were wearing masks.


© Courtesy Southern State Community College
At Southern State Community College in Ohio, enrollment has dropped 16% even as the campus welcomed students back for some in-person learning — provided they were wearing masks.

And during the pandemic, they’re dropping out, or sidelining their education plans. For these students, delaying their education could have devastating consequences.

Rethinking college during coronavirus? You risk not graduating

Race- and class-based gaps already rampant in college achievement could grow to a gaping chasm, experts fear, long after the virus is under control.

“We’ve never experienced anything like (the pandemic) in our lifetime. … The majority of our students are lower-income earners, and if faced with, ‘How am I going to put food on the table?’ versus ‘How am I going to take a class at community college?’ we know what one they’re going to pick,” says Martha Parham at the American Association of Community Colleges. “We already see evidence that the gap is widening — but how do you plan for that when you’re building the plane in flight for the students you have?”

Enrollment is already down 8% nationwide — unusual during a recession — and the economic impact could be significant. Community college programs tend to graduate students who feed directly into the workforce, people like nurses, electricians, mechanics and dental hygienists. In 2012, for example, community college-educated workers added roughly $800 billion to the U.S. economy.

Will students show up for college in fall 2020? Community colleges offer a hint.

Read more

Students dropping out could devastate economy

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After the University of Notre Dame and Michigan State University became the latest colleges to move classes online because of the coronavirus, President Donald Trump urged schools to continue with in-person learning. (Aug. 19)

AP Domestic

Jasmine Justice hit her breaking point during the last week of September.

Overwhelmed at the juggling act of three full-time gigs — as a community college student, an employee and a mom — Justice crumbled. She ignored reminder emails from her instructors to send in her assignments. “I wasn’t comprehending what I was reading. I was looking at diagrams that made no sense.” On Zoom work meetings, she noted her pale complexion and dark under-eye circles. Her appetite disappeared. She snapped at her 17-year-old daughter, Josiah, a high school senior also cooped up inside their small apartment. 

“Being a community college student, it’s a balancing act,” says Justice, 39, a student at Pierce College in Lakewood, Washington, about 50 miles south of Seattle. “And at any moment, the scales could tip.” 

Across the country, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend normalcy and infect Americans, students of every level are trying to adjust to virtual learning and socially distanced schools. But the virus and the ensuing recession have taken a particularly hard toll on community college students like Justice. They’re often older, balancing school and full-time work. Many are single parents. Statistically, they’re often the first in their family to pursue post-secondary education and likely to come from a lower socioeconomic bracket — which impacts access to distance learning necessities like high-speed internet. 

And during the pandemic, they’re dropping out, or sidelining their education plans. For these students, delaying their education could have devastating consequences.

Rethinking college during coronavirus? You risk not graduating

Race- and class-based gaps already rampant in college achievement could grow to a gaping chasm, experts fear, long after the virus is under control.

“We’ve never experienced anything like (the pandemic) in our lifetime. … The majority of our students are lower-income earners, and if faced with, ‘How am I going to put food on the table?’ versus ‘How am I going to take a class at community college?’ we know what one they’re going to pick,” says Martha Parham at the American Association of Community Colleges. “We already see evidence that the gap is widening — but how do you plan for that when you’re building the plane in flight for the students you have?”

At Southern State Community College in Ohio, enrollment has dropped 16% even as the campus welcomed students back for some in-person learning — provided they were wearing masks. (Photo: Courtesy Southern State Community College)

Enrollment is already down 8% nationwide — unusual during a recession — and the economic impact could be significant. Community college programs tend to graduate students who feed directly into the workforce, people like nurses, electricians, mechanics and dental hygienists. In 2012, for example, community college-educated workers added roughly $800 billion to the U.S. economy.

Will students show up for

Read more