A “significant national decline” in the number of U.S. college graduates with science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees is “harming our national security,” according to a recent report from the Department of Defense.
According to DARPA, the Pentagon’s research agency, the issue is of “national importance” and “affects our capacity to maintain a technological lead in critical skills and disciplines” on the international stage.
The report (.pdf) cites a pronounced downward trend in computer science degrees and underlines the importance of them in an age of increased adoption of the Internet.
There were 43 percent fewer graduates and 45 percent fewer CS degree enrollments in 2006-2007 than in 2003-2004, according to the Computer Research Association.
The matter is a national security risk waiting to happen, DARPA writes:
In addition, our systems are becoming more complex, requiring more people with the software engineering talent to manage and maintain them. Finding the right people with increasingly specialized talent is becoming more difficult and will continue to add risk to a wide range of DoD systems that include software development.
Why the decline? DARPA concedes that public perception is partly to blame, and a high awareness of the “dot-com bust” and “international outsourcing” trends have people thinking there are fewer computer science jobs.
But it’s the complete opposite: “Computer Software Engineers, Applications” is the fourth fastest growing occupation in the country in November 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
DARPA also reports that CS degrees are especially declining for women and minorities. Despite more women than ever achieving STEM degrees, just 22 percent of CS grads in 2004-2005 were women.
To reverse the trend, DARPA is soliciting proposals for initiatives that would attract teens to STEM careers — especially in computer science. The agency won’t offer any suggestions on how to do so — it merely suggests “compelling activities” for middle (grades 7 and and high school (grades 9 through 12) students, with a focus on continuity, national presence and sustainability.
Have an idea? First read the guidelines then submit a proposal through DARPA. Submissions are due March 1, 2010. The prize: $1 million or more in funding.