Some Democrats running for the U.S. presidency are advocating for four additional years of education — namely, government-paid college tuition.
One can be caught up in the euphoria of a fully educated population. Sounded good to me initially, until I gave it a bit more thought. My first observations were questions: Does the United States need more liberal arts graduates? Since liberal arts programs usually are the largest school on most college campuses, does that mean ultra-liberal professors will have the opportunity to spread their venom to a much-larger audience, in turn controlling the minds of unsuspecting and naïve students?
Conversely, if the other consideration is providing government-paid tuition to students in STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math — taxpayers would be more inclined to support such a government undertaking.
STEM disciplines are essential to continued peace and prosperity for all Americans. Liberal arts graduates are not educationally capable and have not been trained to create anything of substance. Don’t depend on a liberal arts graduate to engineer a new mode of transportation, a new life-saving drug or a state-of-the-art medical procedure.
Before I get hate mail from liberal arts graduates, I am a liberal arts graduate myself and therefore know a little bit about the subject.
The U.S. may be forced into paying tuition for STEM students because of the looming shortage of graduates in those fields. The World Economic Forum reported that in 2016, China with 4.7 million STEM graduates and India with 2.8 million outpaced the U.S., which had 568,000 STEM graduates. Russia was fourth with 561,000.
The U.S. has been supplementing this shortage with the H-1B pipeline that businesses use to bring foreign workers into the country. This pipeline is used by businesses to develop advanced cutting-edge technology to most manufacturing companies.
H-1B visas for U.S. companies are restricted by the government to 85,000 people, 65,000 with at least a bachelor’s degree and 20,000 with advanced degrees. The government goes through a protracted lottery process that makes it difficult for employers to plan. The H-1B visas initially are good for three years with a possible extension of three years. The main thing an employer must prove is that bringing a foreign worker into the country will not negatively affect wages or working conditions of U.S. workers in the same field. Applications usually are over-subscribed by 100 percent. Here again, most applications involve some level of science, technology, engineering and math and computer skills.
This commentary is not critical of a liberal arts education; it is just highlighting what today’s liberal professors are preparing students for in this complicated world. What we don’t need are more poets, teachers of English literature or other disciplines that Americans could essentially do without. My degree in history in no way prepared me to do anything but teach, and fortunately I had a minor in economics that helped enormously. In addition, I had great mentors at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, the first company I worked for after getting my degree from Auburn University.
Being a manufacturing company, it would have helped to have an engineering degree, but I am not mathematically inclined and could never have attained an engineering degree. As I have said in this newspaper many times, if the world had depended on me for engineering skills, we would still be riding horses. However, some liberal art graduates improve their people skills, which are so important in today’s manufacturing environment.
I was once asked by a senior official about the competency of the company’s cadre of plant managers. Too many engineers are plant managers, I replied.
“I can make a good plant manager out of a liberal arts graduate, but an engineer will be a problem. Engineers see things in black and white and when you are responsible for a plant of 5,000 employees, engineering problems pale in comparison to people problems.” A good liberal arts graduate has much better people skills. (One day I will reveal who that company official was that I talked with.)
However, the lack of STEM graduates is a serious and growing problem for the U.S.
John F. Floyd is a Gadsden native who graduated from Gadsden High School in 1954. He formerly was director of United Kingdom manufacturing, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., vice president of manufacturing and international operations, General Tire & Rubber Co., and director of manufacturing, Chrysler Corp. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions reflected are his own.
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