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The National Science Board delivered the State of U.S. Science and Engineering report to the President and Congress on  January 15, 2020, in fulfillment of the congressional mandate.

According to the most recent estimates, the U.S. workforce includes about 17 million skilled technical workers. That is people who are employed in occupations that require science and engineering (S&E) knowledge, and whose educational attainment is some high school or a high school diploma, an associate’s degree, or equivalent training.

In 2017, the United States awarded 93,000 associate’s degrees in science and engineering fields and another 133,000 in S&E technologies.

Among U.S. students who earned science and engineering bachelor’s degrees between 2010 and 2017, about half (47%) had done some coursework at a community college and nearly a fifth (18%) earned associate’s degrees. Community colleges play a key role in preparing Americans to enter the workforce with associate’s degrees or certificates or to transition to four-year educational institutions.

According to the most recent estimates, the United States awarded nearly 800,000 S&E first university degrees in 2016.

The 28 European Union (EU) countries together produced nearly 1 million of these degrees, with the top 6 EU countries accounting for about 70% of the EU total. China produced 1.7 million S&E first university degrees. Much of China’s increase has been in engineering, which accounted for nearly 70% of China’s S&E first university degrees.

In the United States, science and engineering workers are concentrated in four categories: construction and extraction (21%), health care (20%), installation, maintenance, and repair (20%), and production (16%).

      • In 2017, skilled technical workers had a higher median salary ($45,000) and a lower unemployment rate (3%) than did workers with less than a bachelor’s degree in all other occupations ($29,000 and 5%). The skilled technical workforce is made up primarily of men—only 28% are women.

    The report also describes trends in the U.S. Science and Engineering enterprise, including science and engineering education and workforce, research and development (R&D), R&D-intensive commercial output, and innovation.

    • In international mathematics and science assessments, U.S. eighth grade students rank in the middle of advanced economies. Further, U.S. eighth grade students’ average mathematics scores have been relatively flat over the past decade.
    • U.S. universities continue to award the most S&E doctoral-level degrees in the world. However, foreign students receive a considerable proportion of U.S. S&E doctorates. As such, the U.S. S&E enterprise includes not only domestic resources, but also the contributions of international students and workers, international collaborations in research, and global markets and trade in R&D-intensive products.

    Americans overwhelmingly believe that science creates more opportunities for the next generation (92% in 2018) and that the federal government should provide funds for scientific research (84%).

    However, a “great deal of confidence” in the scientific community is higher among those with more advanced education (68% of graduate degree holders, compared with 29% of those with less than a high school diploma) as well as among men (50%, compared with 39% of women) and those with higher income (55% in the highest income quartile, compared with 37% in the lowest income quartile). About 68% of those with less than a high school diploma agree that science makes life change too fast. For those with a graduate degree, 45% share this view.

    Although the United States continues to lead globally in R&D expenditures, science and engineering (S&E) doctoral-level degree awards, and production of highly cited research publications, other nations, particularly China, are rapidly developing their S&E capacity. As a result, the United States has seen its share of global S&T activity flatten or shrink. As more countries around the world develop R&D and human capital infrastructure to sustain and compete in a knowledge-oriented economy, the United States is playing a less dominant role in many areas of S&E activity.

    Many Americans continue to have a “great deal of confidence” in the scientific community (44%). This perception has remained stable since 1973 (37%) and is second only to confidence in the military (59%). A substantial percentage of Americans also think science makes life change too fast (49%). Almost all Americans report that they believe science will benefit future generations and favor federal support for scientific research.

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