www.gradschools.com/article-detail/america-competes-act-269Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated December 2010
New legislation aims to enhance U.S. graduate research and technical education. The America Competes Act signed into law by George W. Bush is designed to improve the United States' competitiveness in the areas of research, science, mathematics, engineering, technology and certain foreign languages. Through the Act, the United States will spend an additional $33.6 billion on mathematics and science education over the next three years.
There has been much discussion and debate about the country's position in the world when it comes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Due to financial competition with countries such as Russia, China and India, the United States must initiate more language programs in order to compete and partner with these up-and-coming countries. The Act was created as a response to concerns expressed by a growing number of academics, scientists and business leaders in recent years, and legislators are hoping that the Act will establish a strategy for the United States in coming decades.
The bill is similar to the "National Competitiveness Investment Act" that a group of senators from both parties first introduced in September 2006. Several sections of the bill are derived from proposals contained in the "American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2006," approved without opposition by the Senate Commerce Committee, and the "Protecting America's Competitive Edge Through Energy Act of 2006," approved without opposition by the Senate Energy Committee last year.
The legislation is a bipartisan response to "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," released by the National Academies, as well as to the Council on Competitiveness' "Innovate America" report.
The America Competes Act focuses on three main areas: increasing investment in research, developing stronger educational opportunities in STEM fields from elementary school to higher education and developing an innovation infrastructure. The first two points of focus will affect higher education and research in America.
Increasing investment in research
Many other countries in the world rely upon their institutions of higher education for the bulk of their research and innovation. The America Competes Act seeks to increase and improve the research that is done in the United States, including that which is performed at higher education institutions.
The America Competes Act calls for National Science Foundation (NSF) funding to double from $5.6 billion in 2006 to $11.2 billion in 2010. Also doubled over the next decade will be the funding for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, from $3.6 billion in 2006 to $5.2 billion in 2010. The Act also calls for the establishment of the Innovation Acceleration Research Program, which will direct federal agencies that fund science and technology research to allocate about eight percent of their research and development budget to high-risk research.
The NSF is charged with expanding existing graduate research fellowship and traineeship programs. To do so, the foundation will need to work with graduate schools to establish professional science master's degree programs. In addition, the Act encourages scientists to further investigate nanotechnology, supercomputing and alternative energy sources.
The new legislation will authorize $937 million in 2011 to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The NIST will also be required to dedicate at least 8 percent of its annual funding to high-risk research that, it is hoped, will yield innovative results. NASA will be directed to contribute to the country's competitiveness and innovation by increased participation and funding for basic space research.
Strengthening educational opportunities
The America Competes Act is designed to strengthen educational opportunities in the STEM and critical foreign language fields from the elementary to the high school level. States will receive competitive grants in order to better align elementary and secondary education. The ultimate goal is for American students to receive the knowledge and skills to excel in higher levels of education, the Armed Forces and the nation's workforce.
The Act calls for the recruitment of more science and mathematics teachers and establishes new training and education programs for experienced teachers in those fields to enhance their skills. States will be provided with help in creating and enhancing mathematics and science specialty schools available for students across the state.
The Act emphasizes the need for the development of bachelor's and master's programs in the STEM and foreign language fields that teachers can utilize to augment their knowledge and teaching skills. The National Laboratories are being partnered up with needy schools to create science and mathematics schools of excellence. In addition, the NSF will be required to work with colleges and universities to expand STEM field programs.
The America Competes Act will encourage institutions of higher education, departments of mathematics, engineering, science or foreign languages, teacher preparation programs and needy schools to establish partnerships. Competitive grants will underwrite the establishment of master's degree programs in mathematics, science and foreign languages. Grants will last five years and programs that receive them will be required to match the funds.
The NSF will have to create some type of clearinghouse to ensure that professional science master's degree programs and other advanced degree programs share the same elements. The Act focuses on bringing more females into the study of the STEM and foreign language fields by providing them with female mentors employed in the fields. Colleges will be provided with grants meant to give females the proper training for high-paying technical employment in the fields as well.
Congress has more on its plate
In his speech following the signing of the America Competes Act, President Bush stated that the goal is to "lead the world in human talent and creativity." However, he also indicated that Congress has more to do in order to accomplish this goal. He supports an initiative that would, over the next eight years, equip 30,000 additional math and science professionals with the ability to teach in classrooms.
While the America Competes Act is a step in the right direction to fostering innovation and competitiveness in the United States, much still remains to be done. The President expressed concern about attracting and retaining the finest workers, as well as about the possible creation of duplicate programs, which could result in counterproductive efforts and budgetary waste. It will be interesting to see how the America Competes Act will change the state of graduate education and research.
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