BOX 1-3

Lost at the Frontier: U.S. Science and Technology Policy Adrift

A standard defense of U.S. academic science is that the university science system gives excellent training to graduate students and postdocs embarking on their careers. But an increasing number of young U.S. scientists are deciding not to go to graduate school in the “hard” (or physical) sciences. There has been a decline in the number of bachelor of engineering students who go on to graduate school. The number of M.D.s who go on to get their PhDs has been declining too. So while some leaders brag about our fine university system, young Americans are voting otherwise with their feet.

The trends are different for different fields. Nonetheless, the curves go downward, even in the fields where total graduate enrollments are increasing as a result of the influx of foreign graduate students. There is some debate about the foreign students and their impact on the campus and the scientific workforce, but less attention is being paid to the alarming decline of U.S. citizens seeking advanced training in the physical sciences…. Clearly, if bright young Americans continue to be “turned off” university research, the consequences will be serious for the nation.

—From D. Shapley and R. Roy. 1985. Lost at the Frontier: U.S. Science and Technology Policy Adrift. Philadelphia, PA: ISI Press.

workforce as part of a larger plan to sustain our scientific and technological leadership. These workforce recommendations focused on improving K-12 STEM education as well as providing incentives to students to pursue S&E education at the undergraduate and graduate levels.3 However, the recommendations are insufficient: A national effort to sustain and strengthen our science and engineering workforce must also include a strategy for ensuring that we draw on the minds and talents of all Americans, including minorities who are underrepresented in science and engineering and currently embody an underused resource and a lost opportunity.


The nation has an opportunity to address simultaneously both our need for a strengthened STEM workforce and the need to respond to the underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in that workforce. This report therefore describes demographic trends in the U.S. population and STEM education that lie metaphorically not only at the S&E crossroads but at the intersection of two quintessentially American stories:


NAS, NAE, and IOM. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm, pp. 5-7, 9-10.

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