Homeland Security Education Act--Increase International Competitiveness in Science and Technology

Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to support the Homeland Security Education Act. This bill encourages initiatives to increase the number of Americans trained in science, technology, engineering, math, and foreign languages.

More than a century ago, Henry Ford revolutionized transportation and industry with the creation of the Model T. This car and the process designed to create it were so innovative that it was copied by every other company. The Model T became the base model for all cars that followed. This is a classic American story. Some of the most important scientific breakthroughs in modern history have occurred in the labs, workshops, and classrooms of America. We take pride in our Nation's ability to meet any challenge and solve any problem with innovation and discovery. But we are falling behind. Today's innovations in the auto industry come not from Detroit but from Japan. Engineers in Asia are designing tomorrow's hybrid car while Henry Ford's company and other American companies are just trying to keep up.

America's colleges and universities can play an important role in reversing the decline in American innovation. The United States graduates some of the world's best engineers, scientists, and mathematicians, but a far higher proportion of the students in China, India, South Korea, and Japan are focusing on these fields. The National Academies of Science reports that in 2004, only 32 percent of the undergraduate degrees awarded in the United States were in science or engineering compared to 59 percent in China and 66 percent in Japan. If we do not address this crisis soon, China, India, and Japan will become the new centers for scientific and technological innovation, while American workers scramble to keep up. We must act now to ensure that America remains the world's economic, scientific, and technological leader.

American workers are also increasingly finding themselves at a disadvantage in a multilingual global community. In our increasingly global economy and with a heightened concern for security in the post-911 world, we need Americans who can speak a foreign language. Only 9 percent of American students enroll in a foreign language course in college. We especially need to focus on less commonly taught languages, including Arabic, Farsi, Chinese, and Korean, and other languages that are of particular value in the world today.

   The best place to address both of these concerns is in the classroom. We must adapt our educational system by providing the teachers and resources needed to encourage students to study science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and foreign languages. The Homeland Security Education Act is an important step in the right direction.

   This bill would encourage students to pursue math, science, technology, engineering, and critical foreign languages by providing them with $5,000 scholarships. Scientists, engineers, technology professionals, and those fluent in foreign languages would be encouraged to return to the classroom and use their career experiences to inspire students in high-need or low-income schools. New grant programs would encourage educational institutions, public entities, and businesses to enter into partnerships that improve math and science curricula, establish programs that promote students' foreign language proficiency along with their science and technological knowledge, and create and establish foreign language pathways from elementary school through college. Finally, the bill would fund a student loan repayment program for qualified individuals trained in science, technology, engineering, math, and foreign languages who join the Federal workforce.

Our country is quickly approaching a crisis of competitiveness. To avoid falling behind our international competitors in science and innovation, we must confront this problem immediately in our schools. We need to strengthen our students' proficiency in science, technology, engineering, math, and foreign languages and provide them with the incentives necessary to pursue careers in those fields. Today's students are tomorrow's innovators, scientists, and technology leaders, and we can't afford not to invest in them. I encourage my colleagues to join me in cosponsoring the Homeland Security Education Act.