In addition to the trends discussed in Chapter 4, the mathematical sciences are also being affected by pressures on the academic environment. This chapter discusses emerging changes in, and pressures on, academe that appear likely to affect academic mathematical scientists. As noted in a recent report from the National Research Council, all of the normal funding streams of research universities are under stress:

American research universities are facing critical challenges. First, their financial health is endangered as each of their major sources of revenue has been undermined or contested. Federal funding for research has flattened or declined; in the face of economic pressures and changing policy priorities, states are either unwilling or unable to continue support for their public research universities at world-class levels; endowments have deteriorated significantly in the recent recession; and tuition has risen beyond the reach of many American families. At the same time, research universities also face strong forces of change that present both challenges and opportunities: demographic shifts in the U.S. population, transformative technologies, changes in the organization and scale of research, a global intensification of research networks, and changing relationships between research universities and industry. In addition, U.S. universities face growing competition from their counterparts abroad, and the nation’s global leadership in higher education, unassailable for a generation, is now threatened.^{1}

______________________

^{1} National Research Council, 2012, *Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation’s Prosperity and Security*. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. pp. 3-4.

Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.

Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter.
Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 145

6
The Changing Academic Context
In addition to the trends discussed in Chapter 4, the mathematical sci-
ences are also being affected by pressures on the academic environment.
This chapter discusses emerging changes in, and pressures on, academe
that appear likely to affect academic mathematical scientists. As noted in a
recent report from the National Research Council, all of the normal funding
streams of research universities are under stress:
American research universities are facing critical challenges. First, their
financial health is endangered as each of their major sources of revenue has
been undermined or contested. Federal funding for research has flattened or
declined; in the face of economic pressures and changing policy priorities,
states are either unwilling or unable to continue support for their public
research universities at world-class levels; endowments have deteriorated
significantly in the recent recession; and tuition has risen beyond the reach
of many American families. At the same time, research universities also
face strong forces of change that present both challenges and opportuni-
ties: demographic shifts in the U.S. population, transformative technologies,
changes in the organization and scale of research, a global intensification of
research networks, and changing relationships between research universi-
ties and industry. In addition, U.S. universities face growing competition
from their counterparts abroad, and the nation’s global leadership in higher
education, unassailable for a generation, is now threatened.1
1 National Research Council, 2012, Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten
Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation’s Prosperity and Security. The National Academies
Press, Washington, D.C. pp. 3-4.
145

OCR for page 145

146 THE MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES IN 2025
The mathematical sciences are likely to experience stresses and disrup-
tions in the coming decade and a half, affecting both research and teaching.
The business model of mathematical sciences departments will undergo
major changes, owing to cost pressures, online course offerings, and so on.
There may be less demand for lower-division teaching, but expanded oppor-
tunities for training students from other disciplines and people already in
the workforce.2 Mathematical scientists should work proactively—through
funding agencies, university administrations, professional societies, and
within their departments—to be ready for these changes.
Mathematical science departments, particularly those at large state uni-
versities, have a tradition of teaching service courses for nonmajors. These
courses, especially the large lower-division ones, help to fund positions for
mathematical scientists at all levels, but especially for junior faculty and
graduate teaching assistants. The teaching of mathematical sciences, both
to majors and nonmajors, justifies the positions of a substantial portion of
those faculty members performing mathematical sciences research. But this
business model is already changing, and it faces a number of challenges in
the coming years. University education has become more expensive, strain-
ing family budgets severely and often leaving students with substantial debt
when they graduate. The desire to reduce these costs is pushing students
to take some of their lower-division studies at state and community col-
leges. It is also leading university administrations to hire a second tier of
nonladder faculty with larger teaching loads, reduced expectations of re-
search productivity, and lower salaries, or to implement a series of online
courses that can be taught with less faculty involvement. New methods of
teaching, particularly for introductory courses, may precipitate changes in
the existing model. While these trends have been observed for a decade or
more, financial concerns may be increasing pressure to shift more teaching
responsibilities in these ways. The result could be a reduction in the number
of faculty slots in many departments.
The pressure to economize is, if anything, increasing. In his 2012 State of
the Union speech, President Obama said, “So let me put colleges and univer-
sities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get
from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury—it is an
economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”
Three days later he unveiled “a financial aid overhaul that for the first time
2 An analysis from the National Science Foundation (NSF) (Kelly Kang, 2012, “Graduate
Enrollment in Science and Engineering Grew Substantially in the Past Decade but Slowed in
2010,” InfoBrief from NSF’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, NSF
21-317, available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/ infbrief/nsf12317/nsf12317.pdf) found that
overall graduate enrollment in science and engineering grew 35 percent from 2000 to 2010, to
more than 550,000. As documented in Chapter 3 of this report, many science and engineering
fields are increasingly reliant on the mathematical sciences.

OCR for page 145

THE CHANGING ACADEMIC CONTEXT 147
would tie colleges’ eligibility for campus-based aid programs—Perkins loans,
work-study jobs and supplemental grants for low-income students—to the
institutions’ success in improving affordability and value for students.”3
At the same time that these changes are taking place, there are counter
vailing opportunities. As discussed in Chapter 3, there is a broadening and
overall expansion in the number of applications of the mathematical sciences.
This increases the number of students who may be interested in courses
within mathematical sciences departments, including some at the upper-
division level. In addition, career paths in an expanding palette of areas come
with an expectation of mid-career acquisition of new quantitative skills.
Creating pathways for those already in the workplace to learn these new skill
sets provides a major opportunity for mathematical sciences departments.
How mathematical sciences departments adapt to and manage these
changes and opportunities will strongly affect the health of the profession
and the quality of education offered by U.S. universities. The pace of change
to the business model for education may well be similar in magnitude to
that which currently roils the publishing industry. The mathematical sci-
ences community needs to get out ahead of these potential changes and
proactively make the most of its new opportunities.
Universities are also feeling other pressures that, directly or indirectly,
could affect the state of the mathematical sciences in 2025. For example,
many graduate students from overseas pay full tuition, so there is some
incentive for universities to actively recruit them. In particular, self-funded
master’s students from abroad, or students seeking professional master’s
degrees, can be helpful to department finances, but will too many such
students change the research environment?
Fiscal stresses on colleges and universities are also leading to the es-
tablishment of some for-profit educational institutions. This trend took
root for continuing education, but it is now playing an increasing role in
undergraduate education. It is difficult to say how widespread for-profit
colleges and universities may become or how their presence might change
the environment for the mathematical sciences, but it is a trend that math-
ematical scientists should monitor. In traditional settings, some educators
are experimenting with lower-cost ways of providing education, such as
Web-based courses that put much more burden on the students, thereby
allowing individual professors to serve larger numbers of students. Math-
ematics and statistics, because they do not involve laboratory work, would
appear to be promising targets for online delivery.
For example, the Math Emporium at Virginia Tech uses four untenured
mathematics instructors to lead seven entry-level courses with enrollments
3 Tamar Lewin, 2012, Obama plan links college aid with affordability, New York Times,
January 27.

OCR for page 145

148 THE MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES IN 2025
of between 200 and 2,000, for a total of 8,000 students per year, accord-
ing to a 2012 article in the Washington Post.4 According to that article,
“Virginia Tech students pass introductory math courses at a higher rate
now than 15 years ago, when the Emporium was built. And research has
found the teaching model trims per-student expense by more than one-
third, vital savings for public institutions with dwindling state support.” It
goes on to quote Carol Twigg, president of the nonprofit National Center
for Academic Transformation, that the Emporium model has been adopted
by about 100 colleges and community colleges.
In general, there is pressure to find less costly means of delivering
classroom knowledge. An extreme scenario would be greater decoupling of
teaching and research, with fewer universities focused on leading research.
Movement in that direction would have a large impact on the mathemati-
cal sciences because the size of most mathematical science departments
is driven by the teaching load. If teaching duties are offloaded to other
mechanisms (community colleges, online learning, for-profit institutions),
university mathematics and statistics departments may lose some critical
mass. Such a reduction in service teaching could also weaken ties between
mathematical scientists and other departments.
Some online courses with mathematical content have already proven
to be tremendously popular, and this early attention will only increase the
interest (by students and university administrations, at least) in experiment-
ing with this modality. A 2012 article in the New York Times5 pointed to
the enormous number of people around the globe who enrolled in courses
offered in the fall of 2011 by Stanford University: 160,000 students in 190
countries enrolled for a course in artificial intelligence, 104,000 for a course
in machine learning, and 92,000 for an introductory database course. Ac-
cording to that article, other major universities, such as the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Georgia Institute of Technology, are
also beginning to offer “massive, open, online courses” or MOOCs. Other
courses with mathematical content are offered through Coursera.org, which
“is committed to making the best education in the world freely available
to any person who seeks it.”6 As of October 11, 2012, the listings included
the following:
• Model Thinking, from the University of Michigan;
• Introduction to Mathematical Thinking, from Stanford University;
4 Daniel de Vise, 2012, At Virginia Tech, computers help solve a math class problem.
ashington Post, April 22.
W
5 Tamar Lewin, 2012, Instruction for masses knocks down campus walls. New York Times,
March 4.
6 From https://www.coursera.org/landing/hub.php.

OCR for page 145

THE CHANGING ACADEMIC CONTEXT 149
• Algebra, from the University of California, Irvine;
• Calculus: Single Variable, from the University of Pennsylvania;
• Analytic Combinatorics, from Princeton University; and
• Machine Learning, from the University of Washington.7
More recently, Harvard and MIT announced a joint partnership called
edX “to offer online learning to millions of people around the world. EdX
will offer Harvard and MIT classes online for free.”8 The press release9
accompanying that announcement notes that online students may receive
“certificates of mastery” if they demonstrate adequate knowledge of the
course material. It also states that “edX will release its learning platform as
open-source software so it can be used by other universities and organiza-
tions that wish to host the platform themselves.” The press release goes on
to say that Harvard and MIT faculty will use data from edX “to research
how students learn and how technologies can facilitate effective teaching
both on-campus and online . . . [to study] which teaching methods and
tools are most successful.”
At the same time that mathematics and statistics departments are feel-
ing these pressures, there is also the challenge noted at the beginning of
Chapter 5: the belief in some circles that more lower-division mathematics
should be taught by other departments. The 2012 report of the President’s
Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on STEM education at the
undergraduate level recommended that this hypothesis be actively explored
through a set of perhaps 200 experiments across the nation. As stated in
Chapter 5, the committee agrees that the existing mathematics curriculum
would benefit from a significant updating of both content and teaching
techniques. There is a real chance that if mathematicians do not do this,
others will, and that could exacerbate the erosion in mathematics service
teaching that is likely to occur due to cost pressures.
Another important trend of concern to all STEM disciplines is that
graduate enrollments from overseas are likely to go down over time as
the quality of overseas universities improves, because employment oppor-
tunities now exist worldwide for mathematical sciences talent. Over half
(52 percent in the 2009-2010 academic year) of the Ph.D. degrees awarded
annually in the mathematical sciences by U.S. universities are to non-U.S.
citizens.10 Until now, a large fraction of them have continued their careers
in the United States, and the nation has benefited greatly in recent decades
7 Ibid.
8 From http://www.edxonline.org/. Accessed May 10, 2012.
9 Available at http://web.mit.edu/press/2012/mit-harvard-edx-announcement.html. Accessed
May 2, 2012.
10 R. Cleary, J.W. Maxwell, and C. Rose, 2010, Report on the 2009-2010 new doctoral
recipients. Notices of the AMS 58(7):944-954.

OCR for page 145

150 THE MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES IN 2025
because of its ability to attract such people, many of whom stay to contrib-
ute to U.S. science, technology, and business.
However, as economic and scientific conditions improve in other
countries—especially in China and India—it may be more difficult to keep
foreign-born graduates in the United States; already, other nations are
a
ggressively recruiting talented individuals, especially those born there but
who are now in the United States. Increasingly, there are reports of more
Chinese graduate students electing to return to China after their Ph.D.
work, and the opportunities for rewarding research careers in the math-
ematical sciences are improving in China and elsewhere overseas. Publica-
tion counts also suggest that other locations are increasingly productive
in mathematics. From 1988 through 2003, the number of publications in
mathematics worldwide increased by 40 percent—from 9,707 to 15,170—
while the number of mathematics publications with at least one U.S. author
increased by only 8 percent—from 4,301 to 4,651.11 U.S. policies regarding
work visas and immigration are an important factor here, too. A decline
in the ability of the United States to attract and retain top international
students will have a serious negative effect on U.S. graduate training and
on the production of young mathematical scientists to meet the demand of
U.S. academic institutions, industry, and government exactly at the time
of increasing demand for such people.
To the extent possible, NSF policies should be aligned with the goals of
continuing to attract top foreign talent to our shores and inducing talented
foreigners, especially those who pass through our educational system, to
choose to make their careers here. Policies that encourage the growth of the
U.S.-born segment of the mathematical sciences talent pool should clearly
continue, but they need to be supplemented by programs to attract and
retain mathematical scientists from other countries, especially for graduate
school and continuing as feasible into early careers. This goal leads directly
to questions about immigration policies, which are, of course, beyond the
control of NSF. Mathematical scientists who are concerned about the future
vitality of our profession should recognize the important role played by
immigration policies and perhaps weigh in on related political discussions.
One particular aspect deserves mention here in connection with the
stresses on academic finances: The ratio of federal support to institutional
support for graduate students in the mathematical sciences is very low rela-
tive to the same ratio for students of other sciences, as shown in Figure 6-1.
The support model for graduate students in the mathematical sciences is
overly reliant on teaching assistantships, which extends time to degree,
11 Derek Hill, Alan I. Rapoport, Rolf F. Lehming, and Robert K. Bell, 2007, Changing U.S.
output of scientific articles: 1988-2003. Report 07-320, Appendix Table 2. National Science
Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Arlington, Va.

OCR for page 145

THE CHANGING ACADEMIC CONTEXT 151
45%
40%
35%
30%
25%
20%
15%
10%
5%
0%
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
new*
2007
old*
Biological sciences Computer sciences
MathemaƟcal sciences Physical sciences
80%
70%
Figure 6-1
60%
50%
40%
30%
20%
10%
0%
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2007
new*
old*
Biological sciences Computer sciences
Mathematical sciences Physical sciences
FIGURE 6-1 Fraction of graduate students supported (above) by federal programs
(primarily for research assistantships) and (below) by their academic institutions
(primarily for teaching assistantships). In 2007, Graduate Student Support (GSS)-
eligible fields were reclassified, Figure 6-1a fields were added, and the survey
newly eligible
was redesigned to improve coverage and coding of GSS-eligible units. “2007 new”
presents data as collected in 2007; “2007 old” reflects data as they would have
been collected under 2006 methodology. SOURCE: National Science Foundation/
National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2009, NSF-NIH Survey of
Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, Table 38. Avail-
able at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf12300/content.cfm?pub_id=4118&id=2.

OCR for page 145

152 THE MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES IN 2025
and is especially burdensome at a time when the amount that a graduate
student in the mathematical sciences must learn is expanding. Over eliance
r
on teaching assistantships is also worrisome because the changing busi-
ness model for mathematics departments makes this source of support
especially vulnerable to cutbacks, as discussed above. As a community, the
mathematical sciences must be proactive in shifting this balance, because
innovations in the delivery of the classes that support teaching assistants
could erode that means of support much faster than the number of research
assistantships could ramp up. A first step is for mathematical science re-
searchers to be more aggressive in seeking research assistantships for their
students, in recognition of the need for graduate students today to gain
more research experience and to lessen departments’ dependency on teach-
ing assistantships.
One additional pressure of particular relevance to the mathematical
sciences is the movement toward more multidisciplinarity in research, as
emerging fields require mathematics and statistics expertise in order to
move forward. At one extreme, this could lead to situations in which more
mathematical scientists are members of the departments in which their
work is applied, so that mathematics or statistics departments lose critical
mass. If the mathematical sciences were to become dispersed in this way, the
coherence and unity of the field would be threatened. Forging links to other
departments will help in advancing this process. Such links would include
cross-listing of courses, collaboration with other departments in planning
courses, and having cross-disciplinary postdoctoral students and courtesy
appointments. Creating appropriate methods to evaluate those engaged in
interdisciplinary research is overdue.
The multitude of existing configurations of mathematical sciences de-
partments at academic institutions often reflect the particular history at
each institution rather than what is optimal. In view of the changing aca-
demic environment there is an opportunity to reconsider such arrangements
and departmental divisions, in order to enhance the cohesiveness of the
mathematical sciences and enable intradisciplinary and cross-disciplinary
research and educational collaborations.
Recommendation 6-1: Academic departments in mathematics and
statisics should begin the process of rethinking and adapting their
t
programs to keep pace with the evolving academic environment, and
be sure they have a seat at the table as online content and other innova-
tions in the delivery of mathematical science coursework are created.
The professional societies have important roles to play in mobilizing
the community in these matters, through mechanisms such as opinion
articles, online discussion groups, policy monitoring, and conferences.