Last week, President Obama requested $80 million in new funds for an effort to boost math and science education in our schools. While we agree that math and science education are vital for America’s future, we question the wisdom of President Obama’s request.
As we wrote last week, America’s best and brightest are flocking to Wall Street. In fact, our math and science students are those who are most likely to set up shop in a corner office. Given these trends, one has to wonder: What’s the point in investing $80 million in math and science education if our best mathematicians, engineers, and scientists are simply going to use their expertise to line the pockets of investment bankers?
Before we can invest our resources into creating new mathematicians and scientists, we must first find a way to encourage our most brilliant minds to use their knowledge for the betterment of society. These graduates should be the nation’s greatest innovators. These are the people with the ability to discover cures for deadly diseases, alternative sources of energy, or ways to reverse climate change. These are the people who might teach a new generation to hope and to dream, and instead they teach future generations to earn wealth and to scheme.
Our best and brightest do not flock to the financial sector because they have a mad passion for numbers. They do so because a) finance and consulting jobs are simple to get, and b) these jobs pay big bucks. In order to lure these well educated individuals into alternative industries, we must level the playing field. After all, who wants to work in a lab making little money when you can work in an office and pull down a big salary?
One solution would be student debt forgiveness. That $80 million could be used to pay for a program which would either eliminate or help to pay down student debt for graduates who agree to work in a particular field. Another solution would be to make government research positions more lucrative. But no matter how we go about it, the fact is that investing in math and science is meaningless until we find a way to encourage mathematicians and scientists to use our investment wisely.