Obama Wants Engineering Students and 'Diversity'

President Obama wants America's universities to graduate 10,000 more engineers annually than they're now turning out.  He wants more college students to major in math and science.  But as universities embrace affirmative action and "diversity" programs supported by Obama and liberals, problems arise.  These programs at bottom are aimed at creating a liberal vision of "social justice" -- yet they ultimately dumb down education as merit and excellence are sacrificed for liberal social engineering.  In the end, they undermine the very "competitive edge" that Obama says America must maintain.

Consider what's happened at the top-ranked University of Texas, Austin, under an ad hoc affirmative action program called the "top 10 percent rule."  It was adopted in 1997 by the state legislature after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the state's affirmative action policy at state universities.  Yet the rule has dumbed down higher education in Texas, even as universities in other states look to it has a model that allows them to create "diversity" while avoiding reverse discrimination lawsuits.

The original premise of the "top percent rule" was straightforward: Graduating seniors in the top 10 percent of their high school classes were granted automatic admission to the state school of their choice.

Among some perverse outcomes: Students with top grades and high SAT scores (mostly whites) have had their applications rejected by the flagship University of Texas in Austin, yet less qualified students (mostly Hispanics and blacks) have gained admission to that popular and top-ranked school.

This has happened because Hispanics and blacks at poorly performing inner-city high schools are now put on equal footing with whites and Asians at high-performing suburban schools.  Grades, SAT scores, and extracurricular activities -- all are less important than class rank under the rule.

Another perverse outcome: Students at top-performing high schools have sought to transfer into poorly performing ones to ensure they graduate in the top 10 percent of their classes.

In 2009, Texas lawmakers scaled back the "top 10 percent rule" for the University of Texas in Austin -- deciding too much "diversity" wasn't such a great idea after all.  The previous fall, 81 percent of freshman had been admitted under the 10 percent rule.  Now, the university limits freshman admitted under the rule to three-quarters of the class; Republican lawmakers had wanted the limit set at 50 percent.

Even so, the rule over the years achieved what university administrators and liberals had intended: creating a study body whose racial and ethnic makeup reflected the state's demographics, which have become heavily Hispanic in the last decade or so.  Whites now make up slightly less than 50 percent of the state's population, thanks in part to illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America and soaring Hispanic birthrates.

Last year, the University of Texas in Austin announced that, for the first time in its history, less than half of freshman were white -- a total of 47.6 percent.

Not surprisingly, Texas universities now offer remedial courses to large numbers of underachieving students; obviously, they would have been better off if they'd started out at junior colleges or less competitive universities.  Equally troublesome, students admitted under the "top ten percent rule" at the top-ranked University of Texas in Austin tend to take easy or "popular" subjects -- not science, technology, engineering, and math (the so-called "STEM" courses that, as Obama has observed, are needed for America to maintain its competitive edge).

In another perverse outcome, Texas is suffering a "brain-drain."  Many high-achieving white students have gone to out-of-state schools after failing to gain admission into the University of Texas in Austin.

Supporters of the "top 10-percent" rule point out that many freshman admitted under the program earn grade points comparable to fellow students who were admitted under criteria other than the 10-percent rule.  It's a fallacious argument.  For one thing, it overlooks the types of classes the two groups are taking.  More importantly, the correct comparison should look at students admitted under the rule and those from top-ranked high schools who were denied admission -- even though they'd earned better grades and SAT scores than minority students from dysfunctional inner-city high schools who'd graduated in the top 10 percent of their classes.  Of course, it would be impossible to make that comparison. 

Obama is a beneficiary of affirmative action.  He's committed to the political ideology of "diversity."  Accordingly, he's unlikely to be disturbed by the travails of diversity efforts in Texas, which even The New York Times has been unable to ignore, even as university administrators, liberals, and ethnic lobbies call the program a success and soft-peddle its perverse outcomes.

So what's Obama's solution for inspiring more students to become engineers and major in STEM courses?  It's not to attract the best and brightest.  Last Monday in Durham, North Carolina, he proposed a government-private educational initiative to "promote STEM education, to offer students incentives [emphasis added] to finish those degrees, and then to help universities fund those programs."  Of course, if smart and well-prepared students were being admitted in the first place to the nation's top schools, it's doubtful this program would even be needed and that students would need "incentives" to graduate.

Obama's speech at least got one thing right.  "Today," he said, "only 14 percent of all undergraduate students enroll in what we call the STEM subjects -- science, technology, engineering and math.  We can do better than that.  We must do better than that. If we're going to make sure the good jobs of tomorrow stay in America, stay here in North Carolina, we need to make sure all our companies have a steady stream of skilled workers to draw from."

"We're falling behind in the very fields we know are going to be our future."

Obama, incidentally, was speaking at the headquarters of Cree, Inc.  The company has been a beneficiary of the administration's crony capitalism when it comes to its quixotic "green" programs that are supposed to wean America from its addiction to foreign oil and lift it out of its economic mess.  Cree uses LED technology to produce fuel-efficient lighting, and in 2009 it got $39 million in tax credits from the Recovery Act (or taxpayers) to develop clean energy technology.

Regarding Cree's employment, Obama failed to mention one embarrassing little detail about its employees.  Cree used its "stimulus" money to among other things open a manufacturing plant in Huizhou, China.  Now, more than half of its employees work there.

If Obama's example of a "stimulus" success story is anything like his solution for creating future engineers and scientists, Americans have good reason to be very worried about whether America is on track to maintain its competitive edge.

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