The Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI) this week hosted an insightful Hill briefing centered on the theme: “STEM: How the U.S. Hispanic Community will define the future of U.S. competitiveness.” This standing room only briefing focused on the growing importance Americans of Hispanic descent will have in the future innovation capacity, economic competitiveness, as well as the national security of the United States of America.
For the first time since 2004 when the World Economic Forum began its ranking of the world's most competitive economies, the United States was displaced by a landlocked mountainous country with limited natural resources, which is better known for its chocolates, watches and fondues.
The downturn of our financial markets, our rising budget deficits and our declining ability to innovate all played a factor in this year's results. While the first two factors are clear, the latter is directly tied to the growing domestic leadership deficit within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (STEM).
In recent years, our institutions of higher learning annually award approximately 225,000 STEM-related bachelor's degrees each year to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. In order for our country to meet the growing demand for STEM professionals, and especially within national security related industries, we will need to nearly double the graduation rate of to 400,000 by 2015!
As part of its ongoing commitment of highlighting important public policy initiatives, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI) brought together Members of Congress from both parties and a diverse group of expert panelists to build a greater awareness and consensus of the vital role Americans of Hispanic descent, our nation's second largest demographic group, will have in the years to come.
Considering the demand in the coming years for a knowledge-based workforce and the growing demographics of its vibrant Hispanic community, the United States will potentially lose its competitive edge if the nation does not drastically reduce its drop-out rates. Hispanics account for approximately 16% of the U.S. population and 50% of its population growth making this not only a Hispanic challenge but also a national challenge of the highest priority.
The CHLI Congressional Briefing on STEM, in particular, was a call to action for all stakeholders to inspire a new generation of Hispanic STEM professionals to lead our nation in innovation, in creativity, and to ensure we have the needed skills to meet the yet unknown challenges awaiting us in the 21st Century.
If we, as a society, fail to awaken the passion for STEM careers, especially within today's Hispanic K-12 students, our country's innovative and creative capacity, as well as its national security, is not only threatened, but is in serious risk in the years ahead. Worse still, we may never recover the coveted title of “The World's Most Competitive Economy.”
Octavio A. Hinojosa Mier
Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute