No shortage of B.S. (or B.S.E.)

Let’s make the new Secretary of Education’s job easier, and take one worry off his plate.

Steven Teles writes that

If the US is to maintain its status as a great power in this century, there is simply no question that we need to get more of our students into math, science and engineering. Despite programs throughout the federal government, fewer students today receive undergraduate degrees in math, science and engineering than they did forty years ago. The Secretary of Education needs to be familiar with the problem and have a high degree of sophistication about strategies for remedying it.

Please, whatever the new Secretary of Education does, do not let him meddle with the production of S&T degrees. There is no shortage. We’ve been down this road many times before, most notoriously with the 1987 NSF report, the lessons of which seemed to have been forgotten by 2004.

For more and better-informed rebukes of the shortage myth, go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, or here. I’ll spare you my anecdotes, dispositive though they may be.

Widespread innumeracy and scientific illiteracy among non-technical college graduates is a bigger threat to the republic than declining enrollment in S&T programs, which is a perfectly rational response to market signals. Higher standards and expectations for all high-school students would be welcome, and probably would require higher pay to attract well-qualified teachers; if the Secretary wants to take on the teachers unions, godspeed to him.

A math, hard science, or engineering course of study is an excellent preparation for many careers that don’t require such a degree, and these subjects are as worth pursuing for their intrinsic rewards as are the parental nightmares of philosophy and art history. But we’re not suffering from a shortage of art historians, and it shouldn’t be federal policy to remedy a chimerical problem.