A House bill to amend and reauthorize the Higher Education Act includes
several new provisions to encourage students to pursue careers in science,
technology, engineering and math (STEM). It incorporates ideas introduced
in an earlier bill by House Science, State, Justice and Commerce Appropriations
Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) to offer loan interest forgiveness
to students who teach or work in STEM fields after college, as well
as provisions to encourage scholarships for STEM students and to help
states improve science and math education. The bill, the College Access
and Opportunity Act (H.R. 609), sponsored by House Education and the
Workforce Chairman John Boehner (R-OH), was passed by that committee
on July 22. It is expected to go before the full House this fall.
During the committee's mark-up, committee members Howard McKeon (R-CA)
and Vern Ehlers (R-MI) successfully offered an amendment that would
authorize a total of $41 million in FY 2006 and "such sums as may
be necessary" over the subsequent five years for the following
STUDENT LOAN RELIEF: Would authorize the Secretary of Education to
provide up to $5,000 in relief of student loan interest for students
receiving STEM degrees who teach or work in STEM fields for five years.
MATH AND SCIENCE HONORS SCHOLARSHIPS: Would authorize the Secretary
of Education to make a grant for development of honors scholarships
to be awarded to students pursuing a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral
degree in physical, life, or computer sciences, mathematics, and engineering,
in return for five years of service in a position related to those fields.
MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE EDUCATION COORDINATING COUNCILS: Would authorize
the Secretary of Education to award grants to states for establishing
or enhancing councils spanning the academic, community and business
sectors, for the purpose of coordinating and implementing reforms to
science and math education and teacher recruitment and training efforts.
"We must do more now to encourage our young people to pursue careers
in these fields," McKeon said in a committee press release. "I
am pleased we have taken this important step today toward addressing
this critical situation, and I am hopeful that we can find more ways
to encourage students to enter careers in science and technology in
the future." The press release also quoted Ehlers as saying, "This
amendment addresses a crisis. As the committee recently heard from multiple
witnesses, U.S. competitiveness depends on the quality of our science,
technology, engineering and math workforce."
The provisions of the amendment were based on bipartisan contributions
from a number of House members, including the Wolf loan interest forgiveness
bill (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/061.html).
Wolf has called on President Bush to triple federal basic R&D funding
over the next decade, and has also played a key role in a national summit
on technology and innovation to be held later this year. "America's
dominance in science and innovation is slipping," Wolf said upon
passage of the amendment. "Just look at three measuring sticks:
patents awarded to American scientists; papers published by American
scientists; and Nobel prizes won by American scientists. All three are
down.... This is a very real and serious problem that must be addressed.
Anything we can do, from providing interest free loans to offering more
scholarships to bringing the best and brightest together to develop
solutions is a step in the right direction."
The College Access and Opportunity Act also includes provisions authorizing
competitive grants to states and to partnerships (among higher education
institutions, schools of arts and sciences, high-need local education
agencies, and possibly other entities) for the purpose of recruiting
new teachers, reforming teacher preparation and certification requirements,
and ensuring that current and future teachers are highly qualified.
The bill would authorize $300 million for FY 2006 and "such sums
as may be necessary" for the following five years, of which 45
percent would be available for state grants, 45 percent for partnership
grants, and 10 percent for teacher recruitment grants.
No companion bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act has yet been
introduced in the Senate, although Sen. John Warner (R-VA) has introduced
a loan interest forgiveness bill. That bill (S. 765), which would forgive
up to $10,000 in loan interest for students who work or teach in STEM
fields for five years, has been referred to the Senate Health, Education,
Labor and Pensions Committee.