Thursday, April 10, 2008
As soon as I walked into the meeting room at Biogen Idec, I knew I was in a powerhouse of personalities. More than 50 leaders from San Diego's technology companies, foundations, universities, and school systems were there by invitation for lunch and to talk about a San Diego problem. At issue: how to maintain a flourishing science and technology sector in a San Diego where K-12 math and science education is clearly suffering .
Materials for the event had been circulated to the participants days before and told a sad story . For example, the science scores of eighth grade students in California rank near the bottom of all 50 states. Only Mississippi has worse scores. Moreover, San Diego's high school graduation rate among the 10 largest districts in California is in the bottom half. And, as colleges and employers acknowledge, the gap between how well high schools prepare their students and what those colleges and employers require is growing.
So, presented with rather alarming information, leaders, including those from the U.S. Navy, Cox Communications, PacBell, Biogen Idec, Qualcomm, SDSU, UCSD, and several school districts, wrestled with how the community could best respond to a situation which will limit lives, careers, and San Diego's future as a thriving center for high-tech and biotech industries.
We already have evidence that San Diego's high tech and science-based companies need to look outside the United States for people qualified to fill those jobs because San Diego's kids don't have the skills to work in the modern, technological world. This foreign talent is caught up in the current immigration disconnect so that when their H-1B visas expire (which allow foreign workers in for a limited time period), companies lose their workers. Then those workers go home and bring all their newly learned information with them to their native country. Or U.S. companies go where the talent is to set up their research and development departments. So we are not just exporting jobs, but whole industries. Is it any wonder that America's overall competitiveness as asssessed by the World Economic Forum in Geneva has plummeted from first place to sixth place in a single year?