There hasn’t been much discussion of this bill around town, but today Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Chair of the Science, Justice, Commerce, State House Appropriations Subcommittee, and Vern Ehlers (R-MI), Chair of the Environment, Technology and Standards House Science Subcommittee, will introduce a bill aimed at increasing the number of students in math, science or engineering by forgiving interest on undergraduate student loans for students in those majors who agree to work five years in their fields upon graduate. From the release:
While the need for science and engineering positions in the United States has grown five times the rate of the civilian workforce as a whole since 1980, U.S. colleges and universities have experienced a steady decline in the number of American students earning science and engineering degrees. In 2000, Asian universities accounted for almost 1.2 million of the world’s science and engineering degrees, European universities (including Russia and eastern Europe) accounted for 850,000 and North American universities accounted for only about 500,000, according to the most recent statistics available to the National Science Foundation.
America’s advantage in science is slipping. This bill is aimed at reversing that trend by attracting and retaining more math, science and engineering undergraduate students.
The press conference (at 1 pm today, outside the Capitol) will bring together Former House Speaker Newt Gingrinch, who wrote about this idea in his recent book, the two congressmen, and Alan Merten, President of George Mason University.
Apparently Wolf was motivated in part by trends he saw presented in a Task Force of the Future of American Innovation report called Benchmarking our Innovation Future (pdf). (CRA is a member of the Task Force.) We’ve covered the report, most recently here.
The benchmarks indicate that the U.S. is in danger of losing its leadership role in science and innovation, a position it has held with a firm grip since the end of World War II.
We’ll have more coverage on this as it moves forward, but in the meantime, here’s a copy of the draft version of the bill (pdf) (for those who like to pick through legislative language).