Bill Gates testified before Congress last week (transcript here). Most of the news reports focused on his calling for more H1B visas and left out some of what I think are the more important things he said. First among those is that we need to improve our education system and train more people is Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields. He also talked about needing to spend more money on basic research. Improving education is an area where Bill Gates, through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has put his money where his mouth is. One can argue about the efficacy of the methods he is promoting (and many do) but I think its pretty clear that he's serious about intending to help. A well educated population is key to a future that depends on innovation. In his testimony Bill said:
"I know we wall want the U.S. to continue to be the world's center for innovation. But our position is at risk. There are many reasons for this but two stand out. First, U.S. companies face a severe shortfall of scientists and engineers with expertise to develop the next generation of breakthroughs. Second, we don't invest enough as a nation in the basic research needed to drive long-term innovation."
A scary number of students either do not graduate from high school or graduate from high school not really being ready for college. According to Bill's testimony:
"Thirty percent of ninth-graders and nearly half of African-Americans and Hispanic ninth-graders do not graduate on time. Fewer than 40 percent of high school students graduate ready to attend college."
This is not a simple problem to fix but it sure does need fixing.
After the testimony before Congress Bill Gates was interviewed by NPR (read a summary and listen to the interview here) and they also spent a lot of time on the H1B visa issue. Lots of people seem to think that the H1B issue and the issue of allowing students who come to the US to study to stay in the US after graduation is all about saving money or somehow shortchanging native-born Americans. Hiring foreign workers generally costs more than hiring US citizens once all the extra costs are figured in. There is no savings in salary.
But the shortage of well-trained people is real and sending American trained foreign nationals home when they'd like to stay here seems pretty wasteful. Of course I think we need to encourage more American-born students to enter STEM fields. And of course they have to be prepared to do the work when they get to college.