Congress can establish a national skills-based hiring system.

Moving to a more skills-based hiring system would make it easier for workers with STEM skills (but perhaps not with the “right” STEM degrees) to take STEM jobs. To do this Congress should appropriate funds for federal agencies to hold grant competitions in which professional societies or trade organizations would be asked to coordinate their industry sector’s move towards skills-based hiring. The grantee would spend one to two years crafting a skills-testing pyramid via engagement with the industry sector in question, ultimately arriving at a consensus skills pyramid. The grantee would have to achieve a certain percentage rate of skills-based hiring by its industry sector in order to receive follow-on funding in subsequent years.

Congress should create a H-1B Visa commission.

Absent significant expansion of H-1B visas for STEM workers, Congress should establish a commission to manage H-1B visas and instruct it to create an H-1B visa system whose fees (or caps) float with unemployment rate by subfield/occupation. Alternatively, Congress could give the task of deriving an H-1B visa fee (cap) formula to the Department of Labor.

The NIH and NSF should cooperate in creating new kinds of STEM colleges and universities.

Moving STEM undergraduate and graduate education towards a more interdisciplinary model would not only attract more students to STEM, but also improve the quality of STEM education. For truly transformative change to a more interactive, interdisciplinary model of STEM education, NSF and NIH should allocate grants of up to $10M/year for institutional transformation.

The National Science Foundation should create a national videogame-based STEM talent recruiting system.

To ensure the widest possible reach of this STEM talent identification program, the federal government, foundations and/or corporations should sponsor the creation of national science videogames, much as the military sponsored the creation of “America’s Army” videogame for recruiting purposes. The “high scorers” in these videogames and those who comment intelligently on associated forums could be added to the “America’s High School STEM Talent” database. The videogame would serve as both a national teaching tool and a recruiting tool. This can build upon current efforts to use prizes to spur developers to create STEM-based video games, such as the National STEM Video Game Challenge Developer Prize, Prize which challenges emerging and experienced game developers to design mobile games, including games for the mobile web, for young children (grades pre-K through 4) that teach key STEM concepts and foster an interest in STEM subject areas.

The Department of Education and National Science Foundation should create an in-person national STEM talent recruiting system.

The United States should move from a weak, potentially expensive, and socially inequitable system of STEM talent self-identification, to a thorough, effective, and more equitable system of directed STEM talent recruiting. Identifying, recruiting, and promoting STEM talent from our nation’s high schools should become a systematic national endeavor, similar to NCAA basketball recruiting. A key way to develop this system is to ensure that the hundreds of outreach coordinators managing the hundreds of federal agency high school outreach program sites begin to take on this role. Federal agencies should incentivize such a system by instituting annual reporting requirements on their outreach grants that require grantees to list every high school they have contacted and the names of students they have identified as “promising.” This list then serves as the recruiting resource/mailing list for all scholarship programs, enrichment opportunities, college degrees, and other opportunities offered by any philanthropy, educational institution, nonprofit or company working in STEM.

Congress ought to foster the expansion of “Dual-Credit” systems.

Dual-credit systems are those in which a high school student may take college courses, typically at a local community college, and receive high school and college credit simultaneously. Expansion of these programs can help more high school students take advanced STEM courses. Via the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Congress should allocate up to $25 million per year for five years to the Department of Education to encourage the spread of dual-credit systems generally. DOE would release the funding in the form of numerous, but small startup grants to school districts wishing to establish or expand dual-credit courses.

The Department of Education should create “Early College High Schools” with a STEM track.

Early College High Schools are schools that enable students to also enroll in community college classes during high school. The U.S. Department of Education should partner with the philanthropic foundations currently supporting such programs to incorporate a STEM track within them, or to launch new Early College High School Programs with a STEM focus – particularly in locations where low-income neighborhoods are fortuitously located adjacent to strong STEM colleges and universities.

Congress should provide funding to create 400 new STEM focused high schools.

Congress should allocate $200 million a year for ten years to the Department of Education, to be supplemented by states and local school districts and industry, with the goal of quintupling the number of STEM high schools to 500 and enrollment to around 235,000 by 2015. In addition, institutional partnerships are a key to success of STEM high schools. Whether it’s the donation of research equipment, the opening of their facilities to students and faculty, or mentoring of students, technology-based companies can play an important supportive role. To further their involvement, Congress should modify the research and experimentation credit to allow companies to take a flat 30 percent credit for donations of equipment to high schools. Expanding STEM high schools to this extent will make enable slightly more than 1.5 percent of all high schoolers or about one-third of future STEM workers to specialize in STEM.

State Government should establish “NewSchools” organizations designed to facilitate the development of new kinds of middle and high schools, including those focused on STEM education.

States should institute a new governance and funding model to support the establishment of more innovative schools, such as STEM schools and schools that focus on project-based learning, along the lines of a proposal brought forward in Minnesota to create a Minnesota’s NewSchools organization. NewSchools would be a 501(c)3 non-profit that can raise and direct public, as well as private, resources, to “innovative” schools; that sets binding policy for those schools; and that is responsible for executing directives from the legislative and executive branches, with respect to these schools. In addition, the federal Department of Education should factor whether states have established such organizations in awarding any further Race to the Top grants.

The Obama administration modernize to better collect public input on regulations that impede economic growth and innovation.

Policymakers constantly struggle with finding the right balance for regulations that improve citizen welfare while not causing undue burdens on the private sector. Certainly some regulations are useful; however, some may be inefficient or harmful. In our current economic environment, it is critical that government better understand the impact of regulations on economic growth and innovation. As such, it is time to give policymakers better tools to get the job done. ITIF recommends that the Obama administration modernize to better collect public input on regulations that impede economic growth and innovation.