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The United States is experiencing rapid growth in nanotechnology activity, and is facing serious workforce challenges in this arena. With the U.S. economy and global competitiveness relying on higher education institutions to produce a STEM educated workforce, it's critical that the cost of education not impede our status as a global contender.
December 8th, 2010
The Cost of Educating Nanotechnologists
Nanotechnology is a multi-disciplinary field of discovery which is furthered by scientists contributing to research and generating new technologies based on atomic- and molecular-scale manipulations. It is foretold that all sectors of the economy will be profoundly impacted by nanotechnology, including consumer goods, electronics, computers, information and biotechnology, to aerospace defense, energy, environment, and medicine.
According to National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), the worldwide workforce necessary to support the field of nanotechnology is estimated at two million by 2015. The United States alone is experiencing rapid growth in nanotechnology activity, with all 50 states involved on some level, illustrating the necessity for an influx of individuals with interdisciplinary competence and broad understanding of basic sciences (physics, molecular chemistry, microbiology), engineering sciences ( mechanical, electrical, biochemical) and information sciences (molecular coding, bio-computation).
Unfortunately, the United States is facing serious workforce challenges in this arena. U.S. student attainment in these crucial fields trails far behind comparable levels in many other countries. Engineering fields represent almost 30 percent of all university degrees in China and South Korea today — five times the U.S. share.
The impetus is currently placed on the academic community to educate students with the necessary knowledge, understanding and skills to interact and provide leadership in the emerging world of nanotechnology. Various statistics outline what can be perceived as a slow reaction from the academic community to prepare the workforce for emerging opportunities in nanotechnology.
There are ample educational resources for preparing students for a career in nanotechnology, in fact the United States is fortunate to have a disproportionate share of the world's finest universities —particularly research universities. A recent ranking by The Times of London shows six United States universities among the world's top ten.
The culprit may be the cost.
According to a 2007 report by D. Bruce Johnstone and Pamela N. Marcucci, authors of "Financing Higher Education Worldwide: Who Pays? Who Should Pay?", first year university tuition fees in the United States are the highest in the world. Add the rising costs of higher education science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) textbooks for an economic bust for students.
With the U.S. economy and global competitiveness relying on higher education institutions to produce a STEM educated workforce, and the cost of education dissuading potentially talented scientists from studying these particular disciplines, the reasonable and simplistic solution is to address education cost.
Many universities are applying traditional means for addressing tuition costs, such as financial aid, scholarships, alternative funding sources and forming cooperative relationships with community colleges.
Textbook costs, which often amount to one tenth of tuition costs, are of national concern. In a 2007 report to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance suggested a long-term solution to cutting student costs by transforming the current supply-driven, product-centric market into a demand-driven, college- and student-centric market. The report also called for an enabling infrastructure of technology and support services.
Austin, Texas-based Sapling Learning (www.saplinglearning.com) believes it has an answer to textbooks costs with its interactive, discipline-specific homework and assessment software. While most homework and assessment tools come bundled with a textbook, Sapling Learning is textbook and publisher independent. It may be used to augment any curriculum, regardless of textbook edition or publisher giving students the option of purchasing, borrowing or leasing used textbooks. Content can be customized by instructors in a flexible, code-free environment. In short, the software dramatically drives down the overall cost of instructional materials.
Regardless of the cost-cutting measures, if not addressed, science may become a career choice available primarily for the wealthy, replicating 19th century antecedents as a career performed exclusively by the rich.