Testimony, Increasing Science, Math, and Engineering Graduates

January 9, 2006 | Speeches and Testimony

Thank you, Senator LaValle and members of the committee, for the opportunity to participate in this important hearing. All of us at CUNY deeply appreciate your commitment to higher education in New York State, and we are grateful to join you in a discussion of science, math, and engineering education, which, as you know, has been an issue the University has been addressing for some time.

When I testified before this committee in October, I spoke about the University’s growing concern over our country’s ability to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers to compete in a more global economy. This new, evolving economy demands highly skilled and adaptable workers. I believe the United States is failing to meet that need.

In 2000, the proportion of the college-age population earning degrees in science and engineering fields was substantially larger in more than 16 countries in Asia and Europe than in the United States. Science and Engineering Indicators reports that since 1990, U.S. bachelor’s degrees in engineering have dropped by 8 percent and degrees in math by 20 percent. A 2003 study by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), assessing math literacy and other skills of students at age 15, showed that the United States ranked 24th of 29 OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries in mathematics literacy. Only Portugal, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Mexico ranked lower. In 1999, when the program analyzed science literacy, the United States ranked 14th of 32 participating nations.

In New York City, reports at the end of 2005 showed that eighth grade science test scores dropped eight percentage points in the past two years. Among high school students, only 7 percent passed the physics Regents exams and just 18 percent passed the chemistry Regents exams. As all of these numbers indicate, gaps in proficiency in early grades only widen in college.

The business and research communities have taken notice of this situation. The Business Roundtable has led a call to double the number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates by 2015. The group pointed out that the percentage of students planning to pursue engineering degrees decreased by one-third between 1992 and 2002. In addition, the National Academies convened a panel of experts that made an urgent plea to increase this country’s scientific competitiveness.

The New York State Business Council has called for an increase in students receiving postsecondary education in science, math, and engineering, as well as the education of new, highly qualified teachers of math and science. Last week, Governor Pataki called for summer programs for middle school students and the creation of specialized high schools in science and mathematics. He also proposed free tuition for SUNY and CUNY students who pursue math and science degrees and commit to teaching in New York-an idea we support and which we have been developing through our Teacher Academy, which I will describe momentarily.

The University is strongly committed to addressing these challenges. It is one of the reasons I recently unveiled our proposal for a compact to increase funding for the University through a shared partnership. Only by making public education a public funding priority will we be able to meet the challenges of a technologically advanced future. It is also the reason I designated 2005 to 2015 the “Decade of Science” at the University. I believe the University needs to focus new initiatives in three major areas to ensure a healthy pipeline to the science, math, technology, and engineering fields: first, advancing science at the highest levels; second, training students to teach in these fields; and third, encouraging young people to study in these areas.

One: Increased Scientific Study and Research
One of the major initiatives in CUNY’s Master Plan is the continued enhancement of the University’s research character, which is heavily dependent on excellent facilities, faculty, and students in the sciences. To that end, we will see a dramatic increase in the construction and modernization of science facilities around the University, including a new science building at City College, the total refurbishment of another, and a CUNY-wide Advanced Science Research Center concentrating on emerging disciplines, such as photonics, nanotechnology, biosensing and remote sensing, structural biology and macromolecular assemblies, and neuroscience. Over the next decade, we will be expending about $1 billion across the University on science projects alone.

In addition, CUNY, working in collaboration with NYU, Columbia, and Polytechnic University and the Department of Education, has proposed the creation of an advanced center of simulation modeling on Governors Island. Computer simulation is a powerful method for analysis and experimentation on virtual systems that mimic some aspect of reality, allowing for a more thorough consideration of complex problems, from traffic patterns to the spread of disease to global climate forecasting. CUNY has taken the lead in developing this high-end scientific center, which would serve business and industry by advancing our ability to process the most sophisticated forms of information.

The University’s top-notch science faculty already enjoy an excellent reputation. This was made clear when David Bauer, the winner of the 2005 Intel Science Talent Search, decided to attend the CUNY Honors College at The City College. Bauer had his pick of colleges across the country, but he was drawn to CUNY by the mentorship of Professor Valeria Balogh-Nair, in whose bio-organic chemistry lab he had worked while in high school.

Since 1998, CUNY has added almost 800 new full-time faculty to its ranks, in part by targeting selected areas, including photonics and biosciences, for ongoing cluster hiring. In the last four years alone, more than 400 full-time faculty have been hired in engineering, math, and science. These hires reflect a major investment by the University; teaching and research in the sciences requires extensive facility space, lab equipment, and administrative support and is much more costly than most other disciplines.

Our faculty have contributed to CUNY’s dramatic revitalization over the last several years, which has attracted high-achieving students with great potential-as our two Rhodes Scholars, both science graduates, have demonstrated. Enrollment in CUNY’s math, science, and engineering degree programs increased by 26 percent over the last five years, compared to total enrollment growth of 12 percent, and included more than 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students in Fall 2005. At the same time, more than 1,300 students are pursuing teacher certification in science, computer science, and mathematics. We must ensure that all of these students are challenged and supported in their courses of study.

To that end, the University has begun an operational review of our Ph.D. programs in the laboratory sciences, leading to new investments in graduate student support for highly competitive students, Ph.D. degree-granting authority for some of our flagship environment campuses, and expansion of master’s programs as feeders to the Ph.D.

In addition, the University’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, which is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, has been operating since 1992 with the goal of producing significantly greater numbers of minority students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers. The program supports undergraduate student enrichment measures, such as curricular and instructional improvement, and direct student support, such as summer activities. In the past five years, a total of 5,524 degrees have been earned by minority students in the STEM disciplines. Of these degrees, 1,149 were earned last year (2004-05).

Two: Preparation of Qualified Teachers
Part of the challenge in increasing the pipeline of students pursuing studies in mathematics and science is meeting the need for K-12 teachers in these fields who can engage students consistently from elementary to middle schools to high school.

Unfortunately, we know that black and Hispanic students, as well as those from modest socioeconomic origins, do not have the same access to training in math and science as other students. Math and science classes that comprise mostly minority students are much more likely than mostly white classes to be taught by teachers who are not certified in the field. While 86 percent of teachers in mostly white classes are certified, just 54 percent of teachers in minority classrooms are certified. Results from the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress for New York State show that 54 percent of black 8th graders and 49 percent of Hispanics-but only 17 percent of whites-scored below basic proficiency in math.

To address the need for qualified urban teachers for all students, CUNY, in partnership with the New York Department of Education and New York University, is pursuing a new program to re-envision and re-invigorate teacher education in science and mathematics. The CUNY Teacher Academy will educate students at the baccalaureate level by integrating observation in the public schools with a rigorous academic program in their majors (biology, chemistry, earth science, or mathematics) and education courses that prepare students to engage each student and assess their progress. We know that teachers who are deeply educated in their majors and get experience in schools are more likely to remain in teaching.

The Teacher Academy will admit its first class of up to 300 students in Fall 2006. Each of six Teacher Academy campuses (Brooklyn College, City College, the College of Staten Island, Hunter College, Lehman College, and Queens College) expects approximately 50 students who will receive tuition support for four years and three summers while they complete their baccalaureate programs. Their program has been cooperatively designed by CUNY faculty and the New York City Department of Education. Each student will be obligated to teach for a minimum of two years in New York City schools after graduation.

Of course, the need for strong urban teaching in math and science is great, and, with the state’s help, we could increase the Teacher Academy’s capacity to meet that need. An expansion of the Teacher Academy would require additional financial support for students, as well as additional faculty members in science and mathematics education, and in the science and mathematics departments.

Three: Preparation of K-12 Students
If we are serious about increasing the number and proficiency of students in science, math, and engineering, we must address what may be the most central element: preparation. No matter what the University does to strengthen its programs, if students are entirely unprepared for advanced study, they will not be able to complete a science, math, or engineering degree. In tracking the numbers of students pursuing majors in these fields at the University, we can see that enrollment outpaces graduation, in part because not every student entering these fields is prepared to complete the course of study.

We must do everything we can to ensure that students are prepared for a challenging college education. CUNY has extensive partnerships with New York City’s public schools. Through these partnerships, faculty and teachers are working together to help students complete the coursework necessary to pursue science studies in college. Only through a unified and consistent effort by our K-16 institutions and increased federal and state investment in science education will we be able to meet our country’s pressing need for scientific strength.

As part of this effort, we also need to confront gaps among racial and socioeconomic groups in the quality of early preparation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of every 100 kindergartners, 93 white students graduate high school compared to 87 black and 63 Hispanic students. Of the same cohort, 33 white students complete a bachelor’s degree by age 29, compared to just 18 black and 11 Hispanic students. In New York State, according to the State Department of Education, the four-year graduation rate for 9th graders is 81 percent for whites, but only 45 percent for black students and 42 percent for Latino students. And nationally, 75 percent of young people from high-income families have graduated from college by age 26, compared to just 8 percent of those from low-income families.

Surely, if we are to increase New York’s pool of scientists and engineers, we must provide the best college preparation for all students, at all levels of education. These students are the state’s future workforce, those upon whom retiring baby boomers will depend. CUNY’s historic commitment and proven ability to serve minorities and working students is essential to the state if it is to maintain its competitive edge in research, business development, and technological innovation.

CUNY’s extensive-and growing-College Now program helps students meet high school graduation requirements and be prepared for success in college. The program is offered in most New York City public high schools, with more than 30,000 students registered in more than 50,000 courses. The majority of the students are minorities.

We will continue to run our College Now summer science programs and plan to expand our summer programs in the area of mathematics. In the summer of 2005, five colleges conducted science-based College Now programs. Several provided opportunities for students who just completed the 9th and 10th grades-everything from a rowing and science program on the Hudson River conducted by Borough of Manhattan Community College to a marine ecology institute at Brooklyn College. The Summer Science program at Queens College explored “hot topics” in science with students who successfully completed 10th and 11th grades. In the summer of 2005, City College continued to offer an accelerated math and science program for outstanding students, while Hunter College offered college credit courses at the pre-calculus level.

The University has also initiated two science-related projects as part of the College Now program’s efforts to increase the number of students who qualify for enrollment in college credit courses before high school graduation. One is a summer program based on themes in the field of bioethics, scheduled to begin in the summer 2006, developed in cooperation with the New York Academy of Medicine and City College. The other is a partnership with Bronx Community College, Hostos Community College, and Lehman College to launch the Bronx Center for Teaching Innovations, a professional development center that will focus on ways to promote students’ interest in real-world applications of scientific and quantitative understanding. The University will work with teachers in a number of the Department of Education’s new small schools.

To help prepare students for the rigorous college curriculum in science and math, we are also introducing a new “Science Now” program for middle and high school students, as part of the College Now program. CUNY will work collaboratively with the New York Academy of Science and the Department of Education to create awareness and interest in science disciplines, work with struggling students, and give promising students opportunities to take University classes and participate in hands-on experiments in our many active laboratories.

We were also very pleased to hear Governor Pataki’s proposal for middle school math and science summer programs, which we support, particularly with a broader locus at both community colleges and baccalaureate colleges, and with a design to promote both student learning and changes in teaching practices.

We know that early and continued exposure to science is critical to ensuring long-term engagement and enthusiasm. Science is not made in a laboratory-it is made when a young person gets that initial spark, that flash of exhilaration. Through Science Now, we hope to ignite and sustain that spark through several programs:

* Students who indicate an interest in the sciences will be invited to participate in specially designed courses and workshops after school and during the summer. These courses, taught by CUNY faculty, will be geared toward enhancing students’ curiosity and exposing them to college campuses, facilities, and laboratories. For example, a course in partnership with Nurture New York’s Nature would teach students about the urban environment through both campus and field work.

* CUNY will initiate an annual science competition that extends existing competition models, such as the Intel Science Talent Search, to students who have not traditionally participated in such contests. Students would be involved in inventing new products, building prototypes, and conducting their own experiments in a collaborative, supportive environment. Their work would be judged by a panel of experts, and scholarships and fieldwork opportunities would be offered to student winners to encourage continued study.

* CUNY-TV will develop an interactive television program to bring science activities and innovations to a wide audience of young people through a lively, inquisitive show that emphasizes real-world applications of scientific concepts. The program will help bring the talents of University science faculty to budding scientists. Also, starting this spring, David Bauer, the 2005 Intel Science Talent Search winner and CUNY Honors College student, will join the CUNY-TV show “Study with the Best” to introduce science segments featuring educational programs throughout the University.

Members of the committee, the University takes very seriously its public trust to utilize every resource to meet the needs of the city and state, today and in the future. Making New York a stronger center in mathematics, science, and engineering is a critical need. With the state’s help and your continued advocacy, CUNY can and will take the lead in meeting that need. Thank you.