How more college funding can lead to more STEM majors

February 18, 2012

As the owner of a small business providing Web technology services to nonprofit organizations, and a UCLA graduate, I know the benefits of the public’s investments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

 I’ve also experienced firsthand what happens when we fall behind in resources and talent.

 Despite the economy, it’s difficult to hire the qualified candidates I need for Web technology positions. The knowledge of our job candidates can’t keep pace with constant innovation.

 I’ve met the next generation of our workforce in talks at universities. It seems as if our service economy has shaped a generation of consumers, not creators. While young people are the largest end-users of technology, they seem to be the least interested in the professional studies necessary to build sustainable careers within our critical STEM industries.

 Our economy can’t thrive solely on consumerism. We need to build things, whether they’re physical widgets or virtual code. And we need to build them here in the United States and export them overseas.

 If we’re going to regain our leadership as a supplier of goods to the world, we need to do so responsibly and by supporting young businesses with a well-trained workforce. Specifically, we need more socially responsible entrepreneurs who excel in launching a new generation of high-tech industries.

 Every department, in every university, can stimulate our future economy by incorporating entrepreneurship and technological innovation into their curricula. Public policy school students, not just those in the business track, can be a part of the next generation of socially responsible business leaders.

 Everyone can make STEM education a cornerstone of every graduate’s foundational skills. The American economy can’t be world-class without an educational system that encourages technological innovation and entrepreneurship.

 We also need to solve the college affordability problem. Bright, motivated American high school students should not be deprived of a solid education, particularly in the STEM fields, because of their families’ economic circumstances.

 I’ve seen what’s happened to UCLA and the entire American higher education system. Prospective students are being told: If you want an education that will move America forward, you either need to be from an upper-income family or be willing to assume massive debt.

 If we treat college as a consumer good, something that only the well-off can afford, then America loses the ability to compete effectively on the world stage, particularly against countries like China, which graduates well-trained, job-ready engineers and programmers.

 I was lucky. Growing up in a Silicon Valley family, I spent my summer afternoons in technology start-ups with my father. My family could afford my university education, and I was able to start a “not-for-much-profit” technology company that focused on serving our country’s charities.

 But a young person shouldn’t need to come from an upper-income family to help lead our country to its next economic boom. A smart investment by our government in STEM education, and giving every young person the chance to build the next great sustainable business, is prudent and necessary for our country to achieve the levels of success we’ve shown the world we’re capable of achieving.

Ryan Ozimek is the founder and CEO of PICnet, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that develops software and enhances online communication for nonprofits.

 

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