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January 10, 2006

Council: Commitment needed to succeed in technology-driven economy

The state can succeed in a technology-driven economy by taking specific action geared towards increasing the number of science, math and engineering graduates in the state, the Business Council said in testimony submitted to the state’s Senate Committee on Higher Education on January 9.

“We all need to understand that the key competitive asset of New York’s economy today is our workforce – among the most highly educated and productive in a nation which is, itself, the world leader in this respect.” the Council testified. “ But today this leadership is under challenge.”

The Business Council has pushed for and consistently supported higher standards for all students and will continue to do so, the Council said. The Council’s next steps will focus on the need for more of our young people to be highly skilled in math and science.

“We’ve made it a priority to push for funding math and science scholarships that cover the full cost of attending college,” the Council said.

Based on current trends, it appears that by 2010, more than 90 percent of all scientists and engineers on the planet will be living and working in Asia, the Council testified. In order for New York State to be a leader in the innovation economy, that trend has to be addressed.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that U.S. demand for science and engineering workers will grow at least three times as fast as the overall economy in the next 10 years – yet the number of U.S. engineering students has dropped 20 percent in the U.S. since 1985, the Council said.

“New York, once a leader in educating and employing scientists and engineers, is falling behind,” the Council testified. “ This state is graduating fewer than 4,000 new engineers each year –about 1,000 fewer than if we matched the (inadequate) U.S. average. In fact, New York annually graduates about twice as many psychology majors as engineers.”

Qualified teachers are an essential part of a sustained and significant commitment to increasing the numbers of science, math and engineering graduates, the Council said. “ An enhancement of the supply of qualified math, and science teachers will have the greatest and the most immediate opportunity to significant increase the supply of math, science and engineering graduates.”

New York needs more and better science and math teachers at the middle and high school levels, the Council said. In part because of stiff competition for new science and math graduates from the private sector, this is an area of chronic shortage in New York.

It is in those middle and high-school years that too many students begin to think that math or science isn’t interesting or “too hard,” the Council added. International comparisons show that U.S. students, including New Yorkers, are ahead of those in our peer nations through the fourth grade, but by the 12th grade, they are at or near the bottom in science and math.

The Business Council has proposed a new program to produce 500 new, highly qualified science and math teachers every year. Under the Council’s "Teach for the Future" initiative, the state would fund 500 competitive scholarships each year, at up to $20,000 per year for up to five years, for students who agree to earn a bachelor’s of science degree in science or math, as well as the master’s degree needed for full certification.

In return, the recipients would commit to teach science or math in New York public schools for a minimum of five years -- with an extra $10,000 bonus for those who agree to teach in inner-city or rural school districts. The Council would like the scholarships to be competitive, the Council added. “We want to attract the very best – they are the ones that will inspire the rest,” the Council said.

The Council is also proposing a 50 percent tax credit for individual or corporate contributions to scholarships in math, science and engineering given to New York students attending New York colleges, the Council said.

“Furthermore we are encouraging other companies that have the wherewithal to do so to follow IBM’s lead in creating a transition to teaching program which provides financial and other support to help employees choose teaching math or science as a second career,” the Council said.

The Council’s testimony concluded by applauding recent proposals by the Governor and lawmakers to help New York succeed in the new economy. “ Let’s harness the synergies which exist and rally action around our best ideas to make 2006 a defining moment for New York State,” the Council said.