To STEM the Decline: Seeking a National Resurgence Through Coordinated Reform

Paul L. Gaston, PhD, Holiday Hart McKiernan, PhD

Synesis: A Journal of Science, Technology, Ethics, and Policy 2012; 3(1):T37-44

Despite broad agreement that the United States must educate more of its citizens more effectively, particularly in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and that it must provide greater opportunity for those qualified in these disciplines, the political will required to accomplish this priority has not emerged. While educators, opinion makers, public servants, and supporters agree on ambitious goals for degree completion and job creation, US competitiveness with respect to the rest of the world continues to slip. Reversing this trend will require a unified strategy. Grounded in four carefully aligned principles already evident in practice but not yet part of a coordinated plan, such a strategy could engage a wide range of supporters behind a compelling agenda. The principles are as follows: 1) Define the STEM priority so as to emphasize broad competencies critical to effective performance, including those learned primarily in the humanities and social sciences. 2) Clarify through a national framework of educational outcomes the expectations appropriate to each degree level. 3) Seek consensus within the disciplines regarding the cumulative growth in knowledge and experience offered through majors. 4) Create more sensitive and informative measurements with regard to the effectiveness of programs and institutions, apply information gained from assessment to the continual improvement of programs and institutions, and make such information available for purposes of comparing programs and institutions. While each of these principles may be found in some current undertakings, they remain largely discrete. If presented and pursued as a coherent and systematic initiative, with much the same emphasis on coordination as evident in Europe’s Bologna Process, these principles could create a unified platform for a successful pursuit of national resurgence.


Key words: Tuning, Bologna Process, physics, learning outcomes