'We're missing the economic boat of the future'

By Richard Gonzales
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Sunday, June 12, 2005

James D. Spaniolo, president of the University of Texas at Arlington, likened the current U.S. technological work force crisis to the space race of the 1950s and '60s.

The United States was caught flat-footed when Soviet scientists launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the Earth. In the brain race, America rallied its schools and students to pursue math and science studies.

The crowning victory over the Soviets, celebrated across the world on television, came when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and planted the U.S. flag there in July 1969.

Thirty-six years later, new challengers to U.S. technological dominance have arisen across the world. In the near future, Chinese or Indian astronauts may plant their flags alongside the Stars and Stripes.

At the Regional Workforce Development Summit at UTA last week, business, civic, science and education leaders discussed the current U.S. technological crisis.

Tegwin Pulley, Texas Instruments' vice president for work force development, diversity and work-life strategies, said that the United States produces 60,000 electrical engineers a year. China graduates three times that many annually, and Europe and India twice as many.

The number of computer science students has dropped by 60 percent in the last couple of years across the United States. Puller said that the country has half the number of engineers it had in the 1980s. She warns that as a result, America will not have the technology work force required to keep pace with technological growth and foreign competitors.

"We're missing the economic boat of the future," she said. "This is a threat to the economic health of the U.S."

Steve Palko, retired president and co-founder of XTO Energy Corp., cited a study that predicted that the United States would become a nation of brokers.

Instead of producing the technology needed by foreign countries, America would subcontract to India and China for the hard and software components. Soon these countries will realize that they don't need U.S. middlemen.

This country, says Palko, will become a nation celebrated for its wonderful movies and entertainment.

He advises that the United States needs a change in value systems. Too many youths and families view education as an entitlement; instead, they should cherish it as a glorious opportunity provided by this nation to achieve their dreams.

Look at "the single most important economic development issue, and that is: How do you get people to complete post-secondary education and dramatically increase minority participants? What is the wisdom of reducing the funding at the university and college level? What's the wisdom of reducing the percentage of dollars for the K-12 institutions?" Palko asked.

Palko bemoans the failure of Texas legislators to pass a school finance reform bill and chastises special interests with selfish motives.

Spaniolo sees a way for progress.

"Education is the biggest lifter in income and personal satisfaction," said the UT-Arlington president. "We can't make progress until we change political reality. We need to change the belief that equates increased taxes with poison. We need to be willing as citizens to make this commitment to pay the price to invest in our future."

In the 50 years since the Cold War, a diversity war of sorts has arisen across the land.

Steve Murdock, the Texas state demographer, described the changing face of the state and country at the conference.

His colored maps, pie graphs, bar charts and population projection statistics paint a picture of a Texas and a United States that illustrates the widespread proliferation of Latinos. In contrast to an aging and shrinking Anglo population, the Latino population is younger and growing.

Murdock suggested that to see what the country will look like in the future, look around Texas.

To maintain a technological edge and economic dominance over the world, U.S. citizens must stop denying their country's demographic diversity. To compete successfully in a global market, U.S. teachers, politicians, business leaders, media figures and scientists must accept Latinos and other minorities as their intellectual and social equals and invest the necessary techno-bucks.

Two-tier educational systems -- private schools with rich, vibrant curriculums for the affluent and poorly funded public schools overly tested and regimented for the rest -- present an opportunity to the Chinese, Indians and other smart foreign competitors.

Hard-nosed realists must face the fact that the brain trust of tomorrow must increasingly come from Latino youths.

The formula is simple: Latinos plus technological education equals national prosperity.

Richard J. Gonzales is an Arlington resident and free-lance writer. Rgonz37034@aol.com