Congress to Bolster Math & Science Programs

By Cameron

Update (7/29/05): Here is the final text of the math/science amendment that was adopted. The larger bill passed the House Education and Workforce Committee by a 27-20 vote. This provision will probably be somewhat contentious as the bill moves forward, not because of substance but because of the program it replaces. We would be curious what the community thinks about this provision and whether or not it will address the computer science education issues that are currently being debated (feel free to e-mail us comments). Ed Felten did a good post capturing the two pieces of this debate at a high level.

Update (7/20/05) : Related to this topic, CRA has posted a couple of stories about a recent dialog between Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and ACM past-President Maria Klawe. They focus on three topics: first, the shift in research funding for computer science from long-term to short-term computer science research funding (something that both CRA and USACM commented on in testimony before the House Science Committee); second, the decline in computer science enrollment; and third, the continuing lack of women entering the field. Here is the video of the event (their talk begins at about 12 minute mark).

Original Post (7/19/05): On Wednesday the House Education and Workforce Committee will markup the “College Access and Opportunity Act,” part of which creates two new initiatives aimed at increasing the number of students getting degrees in math and science programs and either teaching or working in related fields for five years. The final legislative language of this proposal hasn’t been released yet, but we have an advanced copy summarized below. We will post the approved language when it is available.

While the prospects for this legislation aren’t clear, it might be the only attempt by this Congress to create new programs focused on increasing students’ interest in studying math and science.

Mathematics and Science Honors Scholarships

The first program provides federal money, matched by private sources, to pay the tuition of students getting baccalaureate or advanced degrees in “physical, life, or computer science; mathematics; and engineering.” (I’m not sure why the Committee decided to break computer science into a separate category.) The size of the scholarship is not capped, but only up to fifty percent can come from federal funding. Further, the overall size of the program is capped (more on that in a bit), so there is a practical limit on the size of scholarships. It is clear that Congress wants substantial private funding in the mix.

In order to retain talent in the sciences, students that receive the scholarships must work for five years in a field related to their degree. There are a couple of other conditions, but clearly that is the most significant restriction.

Mathematics and Science Incentive Program

The second program waives up to $5,000 of the interest portion of a student’s loans. However, the degree and service requirements are different than the scholarship program. A student is eligible if they are a teacher of “science, technology, engineering or mathematics” (note that computer science isn’t broken out here) working in a “high need” educational institution, but they don’t need to have a math or science degree. A student is also eligible if they are “a mathematics, science or engineering professional” meaning they have both a math and science degree and work in a related field.

Like the scholarship program, students are required to work for five consecutive years in the field.

The caveat is that the bill authorizes a total of $41 million for all three programs in this section (there is also a $5 million program to provide coordination grants to states for math and science programs) by getting rid of an existing scholarship program. It also does not specify how the funding will be allocated among the three programs. Taking on entrenched programs is usually a failing strategy in this town, so it isn’t even clear if this proposal will survive the congressional process.