| January 9, 2012

Stemming the tide of graduates

Though I don’t embrace the blanket assertion that “Oklahoma needs more college graduates,” I do believe Oklahoma needs more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates.

Fortunately, many people are working toward that end. For example, an organization called Laying the Foundation, working in conjunction with the National Math and Science Initiative, has been able to boost enrollment in AP math, science, and English courses at Carl Albert High School in Midwest City and Eisenhower High School in Lawton.

And though it’s encouraging that more high-school students are being prepared for STEM majors in college, some problems persist. Dave Saba, the CEO of Laying the Foundation, recently received an e-mail from a parent whose son attends one of Oklahoma’s public universities.

He currently is about to begin his 4th semester and has a double major in mechanical and aerospace engineering. At Christmas he shared with us his concern regarding admission to the professional school for engineering. Apparently, there are 250 students vying for 93 spots. My son currently has a 3.25 GPA. Visiting with a mechanical engineering professor at the university this data was validated. The professor shared with me that there are students with 3.0 GPA’s who were not admitted into the professional school. He requested that I take my concern to the Provost. It seems that there is a teacher shortage and that is limiting the number of students allowed into the program. A full professor at the university usually only teaches one course each semester (one section). If the professors could be paid extra for taking on a second section this might admit at least 70% of the applicants without the expense of hiring new faculty. As things currently stand only 37% of the students desiring to become engineers are allowed the opportunity. This is unacceptable in my view.

My major concern is that this is probably not an isolated case. Our job is to encourage more students into STEM careers only to find out that the colleges will not allow them to pursue their dreams?

We know from survey data that a strong majority of Oklahoma voters believe our colleges and universities can be run more efficiently, and that professors should be paid based on how much teaching they do.

Rather than letting the faculty lounge, policymakers should require them to teach more students.

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