Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Solution to the Shortage of Science Students?

Ever since the Soviets launched Sputnik we've been worrying about how well our schools are doing at teaching science. More recently, people have worried that not enough college students are choosing science majors. In the long-run we worry that we won't have enough people to drive a high-tech economy. Well, last week's edition of The Economist has a solution: let in more foreigners with science degrees.

The Economist, of course, will almost always think something is a good idea when it involves fewer restrictions on the market -- but they include some interesting statistics in defense of their position.

-"Some 70 or so of the 300 Americans who have won Nobel prizes since 1901 were immigrants"

-"Some 40% of American PhDs in science and engineering go to immigrants"

They write that there are 85,000 H1B visas (for highly educated immigrants) allotted each year and that hundreds of thousands of people each year are unsuccessful in obtaining one when they enter their names in the visa lottery. They also claim that both Bill Gates and respected economists agree that "every foreigner who is given an H1B visa creates jobs for five regular Americans."

All of this adds up to a shortcut solution for fixing our shortage of science students -- let in more science grads from abroad. An imperfect solution to be sure, but it's probably better than simply letting our economy fall into oblivion over the next few decades. And, heck, it has to be cheaper to grant visas than provide two decades of education.

No comments: