The Modern and Future Economies Need All of Us

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In the editorial, STEM education crucial to America’s future, James P. Cinelli responds to an editorial I co-wrote and I would like to respond to his arguments. Cinelli’s letter is flawed in several ways.

First, he notes that the $10,000 more per year some engineers begin making after graduation means a good deal when multiplied over a lifetime and he is correct. But Cinelli should consider teachers or first responders who choose careers grounded in helping others, not financial riches. Plenty of options exist that give students a good life doing what they love and contributing to the economy and community.

Second, Cinelli argues that Department of Labor statistics show that “5% of our population is employed in technology, which is responsible for 50% our future economic growth.” But that quote comes from a report from the Population Research Bureau, who state, “Scientists and engineers make up only about 5 percent of the U.S. labor force, but are viewed as an important engine for higher earnings, innovation, and economic growth.” The Department of Labor report they cite confirms the 5% statistic, but I could not find the 50% statistic anywhere in that report or elsewhere. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation suggests that 50% of the U.S. annual GDP growth is linked to “innovation,” but that is not the same as Cinelli’s claim that “technology” will play this role.

Cinelli also warns of a potential $454 billion loss in economic output by 2028 because of an “engineer” shortage. That statistic appears in a report by the Deloitte accounting firm called “2018 Deloitte Skills Gap and Future of Work in Manufacturing Study.” But that is a study on all jobs in manufacturing, not just engineering, thus Cinelli incorrectly conflates engineering with all of manufacturing. Importantly, the report states, “For production workers, it is not the need for STEM degrees but rather than ability to program machines on the plant floor.” The report is largely about the need for more people to problem solve and program computers accordingly on a manufacturing plant floor that is becoming increasingly more automated.

Perhaps Cinelli found the statistics he sites elsewhere in places that I didn’t find or don’t have access to. The internet is vast, for sure. But I made attempts to find the scholarship that backed his claims so that I could read it for myself and couldn’t find it. If someone else can find it, I’m happy to take a look.

The point of ”There’s More to Education Than Stem”  was that there’s more to education than STEM because the economy and nation need a wide array of professions, perspectives, and expertise. The most serious shortcoming in Cinelli’s argument was postulating that what he does as an engineer is more important than what non-engineer and other non-STEM graduates do. Diverse work teams with many different college majors, areas of expertise, skill sets, and life experiences—not just STEM graduates—are the key to the tech-filled future.

Michele Ramsey, is an associate professor of communication arts & sciences and women’s studies at Penn State, Berks. She is the co-author of Major Decisions: College, Career, and the Case for the Humanities, which is forthcoming from the University of Pennsylvania Press in March 2020.