1. an ability to apply knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics

  2. an ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data

  3. an ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs with realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability

  4. an ability to function on multidisciplinary teams

  5. an ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems

  6. an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility

  7. an ability to communicate effectively

  8. the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context

  9. a recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in, life-long learning

  10. a knowledge of contemporary issues

  11. an ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice. (ABET, 2008, pg. 2)

The ABET process provides some degree of validation and consistency for engineering and technology coursework. Thus, it helps ensure that the quality of STEM-degreed personnel remains high. This view was reaffirmed by the perceptions of the senior Air Force commanders from the product, test, and logistics centers who briefed the committee, as reported in the perspectives and perceptions sections of Chapters 3 and 4.


The committee identified a number of arguments that have been advanced in one forum or another to support concerns that the United States may face an inadequate supply of STEM-degreed workers in the future.1 For purposes of reviewing and commenting on such concerns in this report, these diverse arguments have been organized under six general issues: weaknesses in the pipeline of elementary and high school education that prepares students for success in STEM subjects in college, an apparent decline in student interest in science and mathematics, inadequate resources for the educational system, a decline in incentives to pursue a STEM career, slow growth or decline in the number of U.S. citizens or permanent residents earning advanced STEM degrees, and an aging STEM-degreed workforce. U.S. citizenship is an important workforce consideration because STEM-related positions in the Air Force require access to information that is either classified national security information or controlled unclassified information.2 Access to such information is often a requirement for STEM-related work in the aerospace industry.

Concern about the Educational Pipeline

The gist of this concern is that, as a consequence of inadequate educational opportunities in elementary and high school, careers in science and engineering (S&E) become beyond the reach of students who might otherwise pursue a STEM degree. Although the reasons for this lack of preparation in precollegiate science and math are undoubtedly complex, there is straightforward evidence that U.S. children at the elementary and high school levels are lagging their peers not only in the developed world but even in many developing countries. In a 1999 comparison of 15-year-olds in 37 countries, U.S. youth ranked 19th in math and 18th in science (Mullis et al., 2000, exhibit 1.1; Martin et. al., 2000, exhibit 1.1). A subsequent comparison of U.S. students over time


A recent example of an airing of many of the arguments summarized here was the Inside Aerospace 2008 international forum for the aerospace industry, sponsored by AIAA. See, for example, Chapter II, “The Issues: Attracting, Encouraging, and Inspiring Top Talent” in the formal report from the forum’s organizers (AIAA, 2008).


“Controlled unclassified information” includes information that comes under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) or other restrictions outside the formal national security classification process.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement