Skilled immigration reform has been a hot topic for some time. It was even a part of President Obama’s inaugural speech. In short, the U.S. has trained several highly talented individuals especially in STEM areas and eventually sent them back to their respective countries to make innovative advancements. This process seems foolish and only assists in the U.S. “brain drain” of its elite universities. Reform is necessary. I can’t help but wonder, however, why so many of our elite universities are brimming with international students. The most immediate argument is that students are well qualified, a point I don’t doubt. My question really is, why are we not preparing domestic students to be competitive with their international counterparts?
There is a bit too much discourse surrounding the idea of the U.S. as a world leader in science and technology innovation without realistic action plans to induce an influx of capable and academically prepared STEM graduates who are on par with the international students who have traditionally earned the coveted spots in well funded graduate programs. This is exceptionally troublesome as two separate reports on the state of Ph. D. programs in STEM produced by the American Chemical Society and the NIH have recommended reducing the number of graduate students in Ph. D. programs to reflect the number of realistic job opportunities.
More must be done to foster an interest and an desire to pursue STEM as a real career option for students here in the United States. Introductory science courses at the university level should not be large lecture halls where professors actively trim the hedges, weeding out students from STEM fields. Instead they should be a place where students learn and gain an interest in science. Without that interest, it is unrealistic to expect the average 18 year old to dedicate the time required to excel in these fields. To be fair, change must happen at every level of science education in order for domestic talent to be competitive in the STEM market.
Imagine the level of innovation and collaboration that could take place between skilled immigrants and a truly diverse domestic talent base. That, I believe is a viable path forward for STEM fields in this country.