Abstract for: America Disrupted: Dynamics of the Technical Capability Crisis

This study investigates the cause of a nearly twenty-five year decline in the percentage of U.S. born undergraduates earning engineering degrees. This dramatic decline has occurred despite incredibly high pay and low unemployment among engineers. On the surface this situation appears to violate the laws of supply and demand. A system dynamics model was created to represent the institutional forces and feedback loops present in the real-world system. This model internally represents the economic forces governing the choice to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, distinguishing features of quantitative knowledge that constrain its transmission, and factors determining the quality of STEM education in our schools. It is shown that high industry pay for STEM workers and low pay for STEM teachers can cause long-term self perpetuating labor shortages. The fact that mathematics performance has strong dependencies on past-knowledge exacerbates the situation. Policy proposals are simulated to test their ability to positively influence the system. The model is shown to exhibit “tipping point” behavior. Small reforms will have negligible impact while significant reforms could make the system move into a fundamentally better pattern of behavior, but only after considerable delays.