kitchen table math, the sequel: Compete America

Monday, January 29, 2007

Compete America

“In many critical disciplines, particularly in math, science and engineering, 50% or more of the post-graduate degrees at U.S. universities are awarded to foreign nationals.”
Compete America
I learned of Compete America from a newscast reporting on an immigration story. This story centered on a proposal to lift the cap on the annual number of H-1B visas issued, currently at 65,000. H-1B visas apply to foreign professionals who may work in certain occupations -- such as engineering, biotechnology and computer science -- where enough qualified Americans are unavailable.


From their website:
Compete America is a coalition of over 200 corporations, universities, research institutions and trade associations committed to assuring that U.S. employers have the ability to hire and retain the world’s best talent. America’s race to innovate and produce the next generation of products and services for the world market requires highly educated, inventive and motivated professionals. While many of the world’s top engineers, educators, scientists and researchers are citizens of the United States, a significant number are not. America’s scientific, economic and technological leadership has been aided by the many outstanding contributions of foreign nationals. Compete America believes it is in the United States’ economic interest to provide world-class education and job training, while maintaining a secure and efficient immigration system that welcomes talented foreign professionals.


Members include Microsoft, Intel and NAFSA; Association of International Educators (not sure who they are).
Their website includes state by state statistics on foreign students enrolled in graduate university programs.

Here’s another provocative fact:
By 2010, if current trends continue, more than 90 percent of all scientists and engineers in the world will be living in Asia.

Is this an indictment of the quality of our math education? Regarding the often quoted statistic that approximately one-fourth of US college students require remedial assistance, how many of those remedial students were educated outside the US? For math, probably none.


16 comments:

SteveH said...

"Compete America believes it is in the United States’ economic interest to provide world-class education and job training, while maintaining a secure and efficient immigration system that welcomes talented foreign professionals."

You have to be careful here. Their goal is not to improve K-12 math and science education in the US. It's to maintain or increase the free flow of technical talent to the US. This means that companies want a bigger supply of talent to fill their job openings. There have been several groups that argue that this is just to keep their salary costs down; that there really isn't a shortage.

"...where enough qualified Americans are unavailable."

This is the problem. How do you define this? In many cases, it's not that they aren't available. It's just that the companies don't want to pay more. It's a supply and demand issue.


You could say that Compete America really doesn't care about education in the US because they want to fill their positions from overseas.

I don't have a strong opinion about this and I haven't studied the H-1B visa numbers or the exact demand needs. However, you might not like competing for a mechanical engineering job against someone from overseas who is thrilled to work in the US and will accept less pay. They want their green card and companies use this to great advantage - and savings.

Generally, I'm in favor of increased limits in the annual number of H-1B visas. I once hired an engineer from India who just got his masters degree in engineering from a university in the US. (By the way, there are some very top level engineering schools in India. One is considered to be better than MIT. He got his undergraduate degree from one.) He wanted to stay in the US, although there are now many more opportunities for engineers in India, and I don't mean technical phone support.) I had to post the job opening for weeks(?) first to see if there were any US citizen's who met the needs of the job. I suspect that this is now a mere formality (if needed anymore) because you can always define a job description that fits only one person.


"We believe that accountability and high standards at the K-12 level will improve student achievement."

Yeah, yeah, yeah. What are they doing about it? Nothing. They mostly care about university education and not limiting the flow of foreign nationals to universities in the US.

"Is this an indictment of the quality of our math education?"

Compete America is not interested in this. Their goal is not to improve American K-12 education. Their goal is to make it moot.

rightwingprof said...

This isn't new. It's been this way for some time. All the brouhaha about foreign grad students teaching classes and students' not being able to understand them? It's a direct result of the fact that math and natural science departments have only a tiny minority of American grad students, and those classes have to be taught because they're offered to undergrads for degree credit.

SusanJ said...

What rightwingprof said.

I remember in the 1950's (not a typo) huge parties where my father's students from India (he taught engineering) and their families would come to our house and fix wonderful food.

However, one of the things that is new is the effect on US women professionals. Fifty years ago, there weren't many US women in science and math so it didn't matter than many foreign male students are from cultures (not Indian) that discriminate against women.

This is a growing problem. How does a female grad student deal with colleagues from cultures which don't believe in equality for women?

How can a US engineer or scientist or IT person (male or female) compete with a foreign male employee who's either single or has a stay-at-home wife and is willing and able to work longer hours at less pay?

Anonymous said...

it's not a huge shock that 'Compete America' thinks more immigration is the answer. From wikipedia:

"Compete America, formerly American Business for Legal Immigration, is an industry trade group representing hundreds of information technology companies, universities and research organizations."


They've always been 'lets glut the job market for business profits' organization

All they did, was change their name to make their purpose more deceptive

But their purpose never changed

Tracy said...

Regarding the often quoted statistic that approximately one-fourth of US college students require remedial assistance, how many of those remedial students were educated outside the US? For math, probably none.

That's because the foreign student with poor maths skills probably wouldn't get to a US college anyway. There are plenty of places around the world that have problems teaching maths. In NZ, the top students do pretty well, but there's a long tail of poor performers.

Kitchentablemath has given me an idea as to why there's the long tail. Lack of teaching to mastery and lack of teaching cultural knowledge (which probably explains why Maori and Pacific Islanders make up so much of the long tail).

The other side is that US colleges seem to cover a lot of things that in NZ and most countries I know of are covered by high school. US colleges seem to aim to give their under-graduate students a broad liberal education. In NZ, a broad education is the purpose of high schools. At tertiary education level you specialise. At a NZ university, you can completely avoid doing topics you dislike. So if you're weak in maths by the time you get to university you can just not take any papers that require it.

How does a female grad student deal with colleagues from cultures which don't believe in equality for women?

I don't know about female grad students, but as a female under-graduate engineering student I occasionally had to put my foot down with both people from foreign cultures and NZ men. Mostly it consists of insisting they teach you how to do something, rather than do it for you.

A female friend of mine from engineering school had some more problems so maybe it's something of a personality thing (I learnt at primary school to ensure that no one ever tries to bully me twice).

How can a US engineer or scientist or IT person (male or female) compete with a foreign male employee who's either single or has a stay-at-home wife and is willing and able to work longer hours at less pay?

The same way they'd compete with a US male employee who's either single or has a stay-at-home wife and is willing and able to work longer hours at less pay?

I don't actually work as an engineer. But I am glad I did the degree. The maths I learnt as part of it is useful in a wide range of areas and having employers know that you managed to complete a famously tough degree is great.

SusanJ said...

Hi Tracy,

Thanks for the feedback. You've luckily not seemed to have had the same experiences I have.

When I was in grad. school in the early to mid 70's, sticking up for myself ("putting my foot down") worked great. I also never had much problem with US male colleagues when I started working in 1977. Then in the mid- to late- 80's the situation began to change.

My career was negatively impacted because I expected to be treated as an equal by men from other cultures. Here's the worse of many anecdotes. In one case an immediate supervisor took credit for my ideas and also falsely blamed me for our team not meeting a deadline. It took me a long time to understand what had happened. Since his English wasn't all that good, I'd taken to writing him short notes describing how we should solve various problems. He had been giving these notes to his supervisor as his own work. So the supervisor thought very highly of him [!] and naturally believed the false accusation.

This whole issue is somewhat OT for KTM so I'm not sure we should pursue it here.

SusanS said...

I don't know Susan, I find it interesting.

It seems like it really took until the 70's I for women to work in the science fields (and others, quite frankly) without as much difficulty as in the past. It seems odd to have to start all over with men from other cultures.

Tracy said...

In my experience, you can have such problems with men (and women) of your own culture. A male friend of mine had something similar done to him by a guy in his office - and that guy was as Kiwi as my friend.

In the mid-80s to late-80s I'm not sure how I'd've tackled the problem, but nowadays I would just start 'ccing his supervisor when emailing my little notes.

SusanS said...

My, that was not my best crafted sentence in the world.

I guess coming from a more female-dominated fine arts (performance) background (where the males were not in competition with females and considered themselves an enlightened bunch), it's interesting hearing how things have evolved over the decades.

And God knows, some of us have some decades on us.

SusanS said...

That didn't make much sense either, but you get the gist. I'm hanging it up for the night. I can't figure out what tense I'm in.

SusanJ said...

SusanS -- you are making more sense than I am. You wrote, "It seems odd to have to start all over with men from other cultures." Exactly. But I've talked with other women in science fields and it wasn't just me.

Tracy -- I agree that such things can happen with anyone but in this case, I left out the key point which was that for more than a year prior to the incident I described where my supervisor blamed me for something that wasn't my fault, he was continually saying and doing things that indicated that he had a cultural problem with women.

For example, he criticized me for not being respectful to him because I argued technical ideas with him just like the other team members (who happened to be all male) did.

Also, I was in a two-person office. When the other person moved out, I changed my desk to the one nearer the window. A month or so later a new man joined our team and was assigned to share the office with me. My supervisor told me I should give the new man the choice of desks, but I didn't. (This was not the custom -- the custom was that whoever was there first had first choice.)

This was almost 20 years so I've luckily forgotten some of it.

There's been a huge decrease in women going into Computer Science in the US and I wonder if this is part of it.

Tex said...

Steve

Speaking from the trenches, is it often difficult to attract US citizen applicants for job opening?

IIRC, the gist of the news report was the belief some held that raising the cap on H-1B visas was just a way for these corporations to secure cheap labor at the expense of qualified Americans.

SteveH said...

" ..the gist of the news report was the belief some held that raising the cap on H-1B visas was just a way for these corporations to secure cheap labor at the expense of qualified Americans."

I'm not in the trenches. I just had some exposure to it quite a while back. There has always been issues about the number of H-1B visas to allow; corporations want more, US workers want less.

This is not just about not being able to find ANY US citizen to fill a job. It has to do with making sure there is a larger supply ... ergo, lower cost to the corporation. There are exceptions, but that's where the argument arises. The potential for a green card is also a big incentive for foreign workers to accept lower salaries.

I don't know the details, but there have been more limits in the last few years due to "Homeland Security". But then again, it sounds like Compete America want to eliminate all limits.

I'm in favor of H-1B visas, but I don't like the idea of no limits.

However, I agree with anonymous. Compete America cares only about supply, not K-12 education in the US.

Tracy said...

Susan - it sounds like you also refuse to be bullied.

For example, he criticized me for not being respectful to him because I argued technical ideas with him just like the other team members (who happened to be all male) did.

My response to this gambit is "I do respect you. I just don't agree with you about ..." and go on with my argument as per before.

It does sound though like you had real problems - and my age is different. Unemployment has been so low in all the years I've been working full-time that finding another job is not a worry.

Anonymous said...

thanks, SteveH

'Compete America' suggesting more immigration is like Tony the Tiger suggesting Frosted Flakes for breakfast

same crap, different pitch

Tracy said...

Hi Susan,

My probable solution to the supervisor would have been to make an appointment with someone senior to him (maybe your supervisor's supervisor, maybe someone else, depends on the personalities and politics of the place, we'll call the guy you go to "Bob" - whoever the person is they should have reasonable social skills and probably in that particular case be male), and say "Bob, we've been working together for xxx and I really respect your yyy skills. I've come to ask a favour. I'd like your advice on how I should best deal with a problem that's causing me difficulties in my work." Then outline the problem in a neutral manner, and suggest a couple of lines of approach.

So you're alerting that there's a problem without making a formal complaint, and while implying that you feel it's your responsibility, you're also asking for help. With a bit of luck, Bob might offer to talk to the supervisor directly.

And if it falls to you to talk to the supervisor, start off with "[whatever his name is], we've been working together now for xxx time, and I really respect your yyy skills. ... "

I don't know why, but starting off a conversation by reminding someone of your ongoing connection really helps. I've used it myself since Mum taught it to me, it's surprising. Thinking up a yyy for someone you are really furious with can be hard, but it's worth the effort.