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Free Tuition for Math, Science, and Engineering? 766

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Gibbs-Duhem writes "Montana Democratic Senator Max Baucus wants free college tuition for US math, science, and engineering majors conditional upon working or teaching in the field for at least four years. From the article: 'The goal, he said in an interview last week, is to better prepare children for school and get more of them into college to make the United States more globally competitive, particularly with countries like China and India. "I think the challenge is fierce, and I think we have a real obligation to go the extra mile and redo things a bit differently, so we leave this place in better shape than we found it," Baucus said.' Do you think this would help with the US's lackluster performance in these fields?"
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Free Tuition for Math, Science, and Engineering?

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  • I think it's good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by orkysoft (93727) <orkysoftNO@SPAMmyrealbox.com> on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @09:36PM (#20313155) Journal
    It allows poor people to get a university degree, which is really expensive in America, and so build a better future for themselves and their children.

    Also, it should be good for the country as a whole, having more scientists and engineers. Those extra beakers and hammers are really valuable!
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by MontyApollo (849862)
      I'm not convinced that there are that many jobs available in science (thus not much need for more graduates). Engineering is probably different though.
      • by ystar (898731) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @09:44PM (#20313241)

        I'm not convinced that there are that many jobs available in science
        Advances in science and engineering both create jobs. A couple of coots putting together a transistor in Bell Labs apparently spawned off the international industry that pays CmdrTaco's salary.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MontyApollo (849862)
          >>>>I'm not convinced that there are that many jobs available in science

          >>Advances in science and engineering both create jobs. A couple of coots putting together a transistor in Bell Labs apparently spawned off the international industry that pays CmdrTaco's salary.

          A bunch of science majors flipping burgers doesn't lead to any advances in science and engineering.
          • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @10:36PM (#20313697)

            A bunch of science majors flipping burgers doesn't lead to any advances in science and engineering.
            No kidding. Can you imagine how useless a person would be to science who decided to get a Ph.D. and then went on to work as a patent clerk?
            • by megaditto (982598) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @10:46PM (#20313763)
              The degree of uselessness of a degree is relative.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by budgenator (254554)
            You don't understand how it works, Max Baucus is a democrat so by setting up this program, the Universitys get what amounts to corporate welfare. Of course with all that mad-cash floating around, the Uni's are going to expand the programs to suck up the excess cash and enroll a bunch of under-qualified students who will either flunk out and owe a boat-load of money, or graduate from the dumbed-down programs, not be able to get a job in the flooded market so they'll still owe a boat load of money and be work
          • by marcosdumay (620877) <marcosdumay&gmail,com> on Wednesday August 22, 2007 @01:42PM (#20320441) Homepage Journal
            Unless they invent a revolutionary way to flip burgers...
        • Re:I think it's good (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Gibbs-Duhem (1058152) on Wednesday August 22, 2007 @12:25AM (#20314461)
          What struck me as most interesting is the "or teaching" part. The people who major in pure science, who can't find or don't want jobs in science, can't just immediately move into finance as I see many of my friends doing. Instead, they have to do *something*, and if that something involves providing a larger pool of qualified high school science teachers, then society wins. It's sort of like military service, they commit to either teaching, or actually doing work in the field, but either way, they *can't* flip burgers or go into finance without repaying all that tuition.
    • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @09:47PM (#20313279) Homepage

      It allows poor people to get a university degree, which is really expensive in America
      Well, you could say the same of the first federal financial aid packages: they helped poor people get a university degree. But then, universities raised their prices, and now it's in a bit of a vicious cycle: universities get more federal aid, universities raise prices, universities build expensive projects generally of marginal use to attract more students (things like sports complexes and other facilities mostly incidental to actual education)...

      As such, I'm a little skeptical of the scheme, but without knowing more of the implementation details I'm afraid I can't critique it in depth...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by orkysoft (93727)
        I haven't had time to think it through that well either, and now that you mention it, there is a plan in The Netherlands to make school books free for high school children. My cynical reaction to that is that the school book publishers will raise their prices, and only a few people in the government will notice it while the publishers laugh all the way to the bank.

        But then again, I also believe the plan to make people pay per kilometer of car use is a scam at best (some IT company pushing a ridiculously exp
    • by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @10:50PM (#20313803)
      One of the big issues with education in the USA is poor preparation by parents. Kids go into school not knowing how to read at even a basic level, not able to pay attention, disrespectful of teachers, and in general are just shoved onto schools for them to babysit the little angels.

      I know it sounds harsh, but the kids already in school are pretty much a lost cause. This country needs to focus on getting parents to perform the roles they are supposed to - socialize and prepare their children to be productive members of society.

      Sitting them in front of the TV to watch the same DVDs over and over again, or to play Grand Theft Auto and shoot the homies doesn't count. That produces the misfits that are coming out of the schools in droves.

      If this country wants educated people, we need to approach this problem differently than just offering free degrees in math and science. They are crap degrees now anyway. Kids get passed up the ladder from grade to grade because the teachers don't want to get dinged for flunking a bunch of illiterates and the classes have been marginalized to the lowest common denominator.

      The problem right now is with parents. They are too interested in their own little universes to properly care for their kids. They need to know and act like kids are the responsibility they really are. They need to show interest in their kids. Not just plop them in front of anything that will keep them occupied while they watch American Idol or some Monday night footbal game.
  • by Durandal64 (658649) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @09:36PM (#20313159)
    As long as it's retroactive for graduates in the past 5 years who now work in the field, fine by me. :)

    But seriously, forgiving the debt of recent graduates who are now working in engineering fields will pump a shit-load of money into the economy.
    • by Tango42 (662363)
      As would giving anyone else that amount of money. And raising taxes to pay for it would remove an equal amount from the economy.

      Retroactive incentives couldn't work without some form of time travel...
  • Great Idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by VirusEqualsVeryYes (981719) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @09:37PM (#20313171)

    free college tuition for US math, science, and engineering majors conditional upon working or teaching in the field for at least four years.
    Mandatory four-year teaching might cause some problems (flooding the teaching profession with irreverent or apathetic just-want-to-graduate students), but this is a great start to a great idea. As a current student struggling with something akin to $50k yearly tuition, I'd take this deal in a heartbeat. I think four years of teaching is a small price to pay for my own four years of education -- and I'd be giving back what the academic community had given me.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      You aren't required to teach. You can teach or work in the field, for a minimum of 4 years.
      • free college tuition for US math, science, and engineering majors conditional upon working or teaching in the field for at least four years.


        I agree with the free tuition for teaching, but for not working. Of course, I take no responsibility for the poor qualiity of uninterested teachers that we will be turning out.
      • by drsmithy (35869)

        You aren't required to teach. You can teach or work in the field, for a minimum of 4 years.

        There are people who slog through 4 years of an Engineering degree and then *don't* work as an Engineer !?

        /Why ?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by 2ms (232331)
      It didn't say mandatory teaching. It said 4 years of mandatory teaching or working in the field.
      • Clever (Score:3, Funny)

        by markov_chain (202465)

        It said 4 years of mandatory teaching or working in the field.
        Clever! So you won't get disguised liberal arts majors getting a free education and then going to work at McDonalds.
  • This won't happen. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pkbarbiedoll (851110) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @09:38PM (#20313177)

    Because anything that makes the least bit of sense never does, in America.

    Cynicism aside, this is a much needed proposal for the future of America. We are being left behind in so many markets due to increased global competition, but we are also lagging far behind in quality accessible education (meanwhile, tuition rates continue to rise).

    I wish Senator Baucus the best of luck with this. He deserves our support.

  • by jcorno (889560) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @09:38PM (#20313181)
    Cutting tuition will always improve the talent pool, because it removes an arbitrary obstacle. That's why the University of Georgia System has improved so dramatically in the last 10 years. The HOPE Scholarship made college so cheap that anybody can go, so the schools can all be a lot more selective.
    • Being more selective doesn't mean the school is any better. It means that the students are better. Bragging about how selective you are is really just an appeal to popularity. "All these smart people must be coming here for a reason. Rather than do my own homework, I will assume that these people have done theres and that it must be a really good school". Crappy reasoning for an institution that is supposed to train people to think.
  • Free (Score:2, Insightful)

    by paulthomas (685756)
    "Tuition at no direct expense to the recipient."
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by orkysoft (93727)
      I bet that when you turned 18, your dad presented you with a bill for all the expenses made during your upbringing, and kicked you out of the house in your knickers, too, right?

      Helping eachother is the human superpower. Having big teeth and claws is the tiger superpower. You don't see many tigers around these days, do you?
  • by wamerocity (1106155) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @09:42PM (#20313203) Journal
    the benefit to society if that extended that to people get business degrees and law degrees? I don't think our country has a large enough per-capita rate of lawyers or salesman, so we could really benefit by offering them free tuition too. Oh and also history majors, because that is a useful major too. :D
    • by wamerocity (1106155) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @10:21PM (#20313577) Journal
      Me again. In all seriousness, a great book i would recommend to everyone to read is Thomas L. Friedman's "The World is Flat." I thought it was very even-handed, straightforward view at globalization, outsourcing, and how it effects the American and worldwide marketplace. However, during his closing talks at the end of the book, he makes a very well-worded warning/prediction about the future of this country- that America needs to place more value on it's scientists and engineers or else it will lose them. In a country where MARKETING and SALES offer some of the best paid salaries, brilliant minds will not spend the money, time, and incredible effort it takes to get an engineering degree. We will continue outsourcing our engineers from India and China, and the time will come when China and India will outsource marketing and sales to the US, because it will be what we do best.

      I truly applaud this senator for the initiative and believe that that ALL states should follow suit and offer a similar program, to help keep the sciences strong in the US.

  • by CashCarSTAR (548853) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @09:43PM (#20313221)
    In a given field, will not increase the amount of jobs in a given field. Actually it probably will, a little bit, as it'll probably be combined with severe reduction in work visas given for those fields. But not enough. Especially not enough for the expected glut of talent that will take advantage of such an offer.

    So what you'll end up with is a bunch of people with math, science and engineering degrees asking "Do you want fries with that?", which actually isn't bad. At least they're educated.
  • While I'm sure the senator has good intentions, I don't think this idea is scalable. If Montana has an extra chunk of change to spend on their own education, I'm sure they'll spend it on education, and that's wonderful. But, where is he going to find $25bn to completely fund certain college tuitions?

    And, how will this be implemented? Socializing the education system tends to decrease the overall quality of teaching because lower salaries and less grant money cause more people to work in industry rather
  • by nomadic (141991)
    If this went through you'd see a huge surge of unemployed or underemployed engineers. How many engineers have had to move into sales or marketing positions because that's all that's available? What exactly will more engineers do?
    • by iggymanz (596061)
      if you'd couple this idea with clamping down on outsourcing and H1 visas that'd do the trick. right now plenty of megacorporations take advantage of the security and safety and market of the U.S. but they aren't paying the bulk of the taxes, the small guy is. time to take the fat cats to school
  • I've already got my math degree and have taught for four year... and I've got some loans that need paying off. Does it matter that I live in Illinois, not Montana?
  • No free lunches (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris@beauTOKYO.org minus city> on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @09:51PM (#20313309)
    No, it's a bad idea. All this plan would do is suck a bunch of people into those majors who want the free lunch but don't have the motivation to really pursue the subjects. Much like what happens every few years when Computer Science goes from bust to boom and all sorts of people take it because they think they will make a shitload of money in the field. They make lousy IT people and switch careers as soon as the industry cycles back to bust again.

    And the 'Free money!' (of course TANSTAAFL) mentality would totally distort the education establishment even more than the transition of Athletics from a sideline into a major cash cow did.
  • Does starting your own company to invent and design immediately after college count? Who decides what counts and what doesn't. There are only so many teaching jobs -- it would suck to have the rest of engineering grads under the program be indentured to large companies (which will probably be the only ones who are "certified" for this.)

    -b.

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @09:51PM (#20313317)
    So if you participate in this program and then lose your job, or become disabled, and are unable to work in the field for 4 years, not only do you have the regular problems of unemployment but you also have the sudden obligation to re-pay all that tuition? From the student's point of view, it seems like quite a gamble that the job market will be favorable 4 years down the road.
    • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
      So if you participate in this program and then lose your job, or become disabled, and are unable to work in the field for 4 years, not only do you have the regular problems of unemployment but you also have the sudden obligation to re-pay all that tuition?

      What about offering "national service" type jobs (not necessarily teaching) to all those who graduate with a good GPA. We have plenty of infrastructure, for example, that needs to be redesigned and repaired. Then again, the unions will probably squeal

  • I don't think so (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @09:52PM (#20313327)
    If there is any sort of cap, the "free" tuition will just go to the people who would have paid anyways. If you assume that people who are engineering students are so because they like the field, they are probably the best qualified to be in the field. So if these scholarships are at all merit-based, chances are the same kids would get them. If they are not merit based, then you'll get poorly-qualified people signing up just to take advantage, crowding out the few who are qualified but are too poor.

    So either the scholarships need to be available to anyone who meets the simple criteria of graduating and working in the field, or they probably won't have the intended effect of increasing the quantity and maintaining or improving the quality of engineering graduates. They'll just end up being a hand-out to the people who don't need handouts.

    Honestly, I think the USA's best bet is brain-drain. We need to tear-down a lot of the post 9/11 every-foreign-student-is-a-potential-terrorist rules, and kill H1B, replacing it with a fast-track to citizen-ship visa (I say go so far as to make citizen-ship a requirement after 3 years on this theoretical visa) so that we attract and then keep all the smart people from the rest of the world.
  • In this day and age of Political Correctness, and reactionary populous politics where most Americans get their political education from comedy-based talk shows, I think free tuition in Political Science (and the social sciences in general), will go a long way into educating people about the world around them. Learning, for example, to make better weapons is one thing. Learning how not to use them is another.
  • However, at least engineering disciplines are already highly paid and have excellent benefits at almost any business. While it may help many new people into the door as the entrance bar is sometimes out of reach to many without the financial means to pay for college, it will not fix the problem that the students entering into the college level have a, how can I put this, "lack of good fundamentals" in these areas, and thus need many classes just to reach the level they should already possess before reaching
  • My sister received free tuition for agreeing to teach "special education" for five years after college in Illinois. Now her tuition is free but her room and board is not.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by trogdor8667 (817114)
      Tennessee did the same, only it was five years in impoverished areas in Tennessee. The kicker? You didn't get your tuition free at the time... the state simply agreed to pay off your loans AFTER your five years were up. And, to date, I've not heard of them actually paying a cent out...
  • This is along the lines of graduate school, where science and engineering students recieve more funding (generally).

    Who pays in this case? The federal government, through grants. Someone always pays.

    Does this lead to more people getting graduate degrees in science? Definitely, although financial reasons are also a big part of many people leaving grad school without the degree they went in for.

    Does this lead to more jobs in science? Yeah, kind-of. More federal funding for science grad students encourage
  • conditional upon working or teaching in the field for at least four years.

    And how will he enforce the rule? By making the non-complying graduates pay back — no other way, really, as there is no slavery here.

    Which means, people, who find better jobs than teaching, will just pay off (as they do now) with the losers sticking to become teachers. Could find better use for that money...

  • Any law student that changes major to engineering gets twice the tuition.
  • by Mhrmnhrm (263196) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @10:28PM (#20313619)
    It's not going to do crap until engineers, physicists, chemists, and the people who actually do the grunt work are paid what they're worth. Why should extremely intelligent people who've worked 30 years advancing the frontiers of knowledge and technology be paid *MAYBE* 200k/yr when they can get an MBA or JD, learn some buzzwords, and become CEO in twenty years, then be given a 200M golden parachute for driving their corporation into bankruptcy?
  • No, it won't help (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Absolut187 (816431) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @10:33PM (#20313669) Homepage

    Do you think this would help with the US's lackluster performance in these fields?

    You can't bribe someone to be a nerd.
    Either you are interested in learning about the world or they aren't.

    American kids aren't avoiding math and science for lack of funds.
    They avoid math and science because its HARD and not cool.
    They are more interested in sports and MTV and shopping and spending their parent's money than they are in learning how to do anything that takes effort.
    If they can't charge it to daddy's credit card, it's not happening.
    Of course this is an over-generalization, but you know its true.
    That is our culture.

    Even foreigners who come from a culture that values hard work and education fall victim to American culture. They bring their families here and in a generation or two their kids are lazy and spoiled like the rest of us.

    American society cares more about athletic ability than anything else.
    We act like sports is life-and-death.
    Play in a company softball game and see how people act.
    All anybody ever wants to talk about is sports.
    People look at you funny if you want to talk about the space program or something crazy like that.
    But if you want to talk about how Johnny Random hit a ball with a bat, that's fuckin fascinating..

    Maybe its just where I work or something?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      American kids aren't avoiding math and science for lack of funds.
      They avoid math and science because its HARD and not cool.
      They are more interested in sports and MTV and shopping and spending their parent's money than they are in learning how to do anything that takes effort.
      If they can't charge it to daddy's credit card, it's not happening.
      Of course this is an over-generalization, but you know its true.

      It's not true - because it presupposed a mythical golden era where American kids didn't prefer other [er

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @10:44PM (#20313745) Homepage Journal
    How about the government just gives everyone who graduates highschool on time $1000 cash, no questions asked? To use for college tuition, buying a car, a year of free cheeseburgers, or anything else they want, no strings attached.

    It costs the government something like $30K a year to keep a person in jail. Not to mention how much it costs to run the rest of the judicial system, to build the jails, the damage caused by their crimes, or the taxes they could have paid if they were free to work. By the time we're done with the difference between a free person and a jailed person, it's probably over $50K a year. The average Federal jailtime is over 5 years [usdoj.gov] per sentence, or well over $250K per prisoner (many get multiple sentences per lifetime).

    People graduating HS on time are less likely to commit crimes and go to jail. So every person who the bonus spares from jail is worth over 250 people who get it, but still go to jail. In other words, if the increased on-time graduations reduce the crime rate even as little as 0.25%, they're worth it. It's probably closer to needing only 0.1% or less to "break even". And that's not counting other benefits, like increased productivity, reduced teen pregnancy, and all the other benefits of on-time graduation.

    We can afford a lot more investment in Americans' education. Some targeting high performers who need more money for even higher performance. Some targeting low performers at risk of creating more damage than it costs to prevent. Education is always the investment with the best return. Investing more will pay off quickly, creating more money to invest, and improving the country across the board as a "byproduct".
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rossz (67331)
      You're assuming that they end up in jail because they didn't graduate on time. I tend to believe the people who don't graduate on time are also the type of people who do things that get their sorry asses tossed in jail.
  • by saforrest (184929) on Tuesday August 21, 2007 @11:34PM (#20314131) Homepage Journal
    One major issue in my own undergraduate education (in mathematics and computer science) was the gulf between those who were comtemplating a future academic career in the subject, and those who merely wanted a credential to progress on to industry.

    Yes, there are some students who straddle the fence — in a way, I was one myself — but for the most part the undergraduate student population is rather sharply divided between the research-directed and the credential-directed. The fact that programs have to accomodate both lead to conflicts — the research-directed students complain bitterly about dumbing-down of material and excessive commercial influence on the curriculum, while the credential-directed complain about having to learn a ton of useless theory which will be irrelevant to their future.

    I mention this because I speculate that Max Baucus' proposal would certainly change the current equilibrium between these two camps, particularly if free tuition is only for science/engineering students. True, there would be a lot more research-directed types who can't get into university now for lack of funds, but I imagine most of the people who'd come who aren't there now would be credential-directed.

    There's also another reason they'd be credential-directed, which is the tone set by the policy itself. There's something a little disturbingly utilitarian about the proposal of granting free tuition only to those people. This sort of philosophy makes me wonder whether the line would be drawn around science/engineering as a whole, or around only those science/engineering programs that have a utilitarian (read: "commercial") appeal. I would think it would be hard for the government to argue that engineering and category theory are "useful" but that philosophy and rhetoric are not.

    If, however, research-directed programs are ruled out, the result would likely be a forcible segragation of research-directed and credential-directed students, even more than there is now. Maybe this is where we're headed anyway, but it would be regrettable as the forced mingling of the two has been hugely productive for both in the past.
    • This is a very insightful point. I've definitely observed this divide within physics. The research-directed types (of which I would consider myself one) are willing to pursue careers (probably in academia) regardless of the financial benefit, assuming of course that it provides enough to subsist on.

      The main draw of the credential directed outlook is financial, and I don't think it's schooling expenses, but rather long-term earning potential, and thus a sense of security, which is the main incentives. More r
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday August 22, 2007 @12:37AM (#20314513) Homepage

    The US doesn't need more engineers. If it did, salaries would be higher. In 1970, engineering and law salaries were about equal, or so says the IEEE. That's certainly changed.

    The US doesn't need more engineers because high-tech manufacturing has gone offshore. Where the manufacturing goes, the production engineering must go, and the design engineering follows. Then the brands go. Then top management. Then the financing.

    Read the Lenovo story. [lenovo.com] They're not a spinoff of IBM. They're a successful Chinese PC company that bought IBM's PC business to expand. IBM is just the company to which Lenovo outsources US warranty service.

  • yes and no (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tom (822) on Wednesday August 22, 2007 @01:18AM (#20314733) Homepage Journal
    Problems over here in Europe are similar.

    But, instead of another "let's give certain groups something special" program, how about raising the general level of education in such fields as math?

    Many scams and doubtful business methods (including, btw. many insurances) only work because the general public is frighteningly uneducated in math, for example, and can't do even simple statistics.

    One of the reasons this is so is that there is no education science of mathematics. There are special branches of education science for almost every other field, be it art, languages or health. But no one seems to care about how to teach math. So it's taught by people who know general pedagogics and try to apply that to math as best as they can - but we all know that math skills and people skills do not very often go together, so you are really lucky if your math teacher is good at both math and teaching.

    And that's not his fault, but a failure of the system, which instead of thinking about why so many people fail in math in school, and improve the teaching techniques, dumbs down the curriculum or makes math optional instead of mandatory.

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