Study: Americans concerned U.S. will lose competitive edge

Paul V. Arnold, Noria Corporation

Business Roundtable released research indicating widespread public recognition of the growing competitiveness crisis in this country and strong national support for policies designed to strengthen America’s capabilities in mathematics and science. The four-month project included focus groups, interviews with opinion leaders and three national polls of voters and opinion leaders.

“There are two findings in this research that are particularly compelling,” said Arthur F. Ryan, Chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc., and Chairman of the Roundtable’s Education & the Workforce Task Force. “First, it’s clear that we have to broaden our partnerships to move this work forward. It’s not sufficient for business people and educators to collaborate – we need the support of all stakeholders, including the Administration and Congress. Second, all of us will have to focus our energies on young people who are making decisions today about their future careers. Working with them, we will be able to build the paths and messages that will attract more of their peers to higher achievement in math and science.”

In September, Business Roundtable, with support from Compete America, engaged Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. and the Winston Group to conduct a nationwide research project to measure Americans’ understanding, opinions and beliefs about our nation’s math and science talent pipeline and maintaining a competitive edge in the future. Key findings of the research include:

  1. Anxiety about the Future: Americans are confident about the competitive position of the U.S. today, but unlike a decade ago when they believed that the U.S. would continue to be the world’s economic leader, Americans now think that the U.S. will lose its competitive advantage in the future.
  2. Strong Support for Addressing the Talent Gap: Both opinion leaders and voters recognize the importance of improving U.S. science and technology capabilities, and believe it deserves a prominent place on the national agenda.
  3. Start at Home: While there is strong support for improving math and science education here at home, there is less awareness of the need to increase funding for basic research, and there are divergent views on increasing the pipeline of foreign talent as a critical element to address the talent gap in the U.S.
  4. Convince Our Youth: Even though Americans believe we must increase the number of workers with a background in science and math or it will hurt our ability to compete, parents overwhelmingly are not willing to persuade their children to pursue careers in those fields.

“If we are going to increase the numbers of Americans entering scientific and technological careers, we will need to convince young people that just as exercise and good nutrition fuel the body, math and science fuel the brain,” said John J. Castellani, President of Business Roundtable. “A successful effort requires strong collaboration among the government, businesses, educators, parents and youth.”

In July 2005, fifteen national business organizations released a report, “Tapping America’s Potential,” expressing deep concern about the United States’ ability to sustain its scientific and technological superiority through this decade and beyond. The report set the goal of doubling the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates with bachelor’s degrees by 2015 and recommended, among other things, a campaign to build public support for making science, technology, engineering and math improvement a national priority.

To view a summary of the research findings, click here.
To view a copy of the research presentation, click here.
To view a copy of the surveys, click here.

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