The importance of a strong global S&E enterprise was epitomized during the COVID-19 pandemic, which had devastating consequences for the global and U.S. economy while requiring rapid, collaborative, and effective S&E innovation activity. Evidence presented in this report supports the view that the global position of the U.S. S&E enterprise has shifted due to rapid growth in Asia’s R&D investments and S&T capabilities. The high rate of growth in several countries, including China, is not surprising because of their low starting position in these activities. As their growth outpaces U.S. growth in R&D investment, S&E publications, patenting activity, and the output of some KTI industries, these activities are less concentrated in the United States than they were at the turn of the century, despite increases in absolute dollars spent on R&D by the United States. However, the United States remains a key collaborator in the global S&E enterprise, a role that was clear during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This report highlights potential areas in which building, broadening, and diversifying S&E capacity could strengthen the U.S. S&E enterprise for meeting future challenges. The data indicate some capacity-building areas in the U.S. S&E enterprise as (1) investing in R&D and supporting innovation activities that translate the resulting knowledge into products and services, (2) improving STEM education at the K–12 level, (3) increasing participation in STEM fields of study and careers to include all socioeconomic and demographic groups and U.S. geographic regions, and (4) building a strong STEM labor force by training and educating domestic talent and by recruiting and retaining foreign talent.
Federal support for R&D and innovation activity is important to the U.S. S&E enterprise. Despite increasing amounts of federal funding for R&D, the overall proportion of R&D funded by the government has declined over the past 9 years. Federal funding is particularly important for basic research and research performed at institutions of higher education. Beyond directly funding research, the federal government supports activities that prevent cyber theft, enhance intellectual property protection, and promote technology transfer.
The U.S. S&E enterprise depends on a large STEM labor force. Building the STEM labor force through strengthening U.S. STEM education at the K–12 level will increase S&E capacity. Performance of U.S. K–12 students in STEM has been stagnant, and persistent achievement gaps remain among sociodemographic groups. Reducing these gaps would provide more students with STEM skills who can either pursue higher education in a STEM field or enter the STEM labor force. In addition, the U.S. higher education system is highly valued. However, higher education is expensive, posing a barrier for many families. Affordable U.S. higher education has the potential to expand the domestic STEM labor force by increasing opportunities for everyone.
STEM careers are concentrated in a few parts of the country. Employment of the STW is greater in states in the South and Midwest where many manufacturing KTI industries are located. Workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher are concentrated in states on the East and West Coasts where services-oriented KTI industries, some manufacturing-oriented KTI industries, and many of the nation’s most research-intensive universities are located. Reducing this uneven geographic distribution presents an opportunity to increase equitable representation in the STEM workforce.
The U.S. STEM labor force depends heavily on foreign talent. At the doctorate level, the United States trains many of these workers. Most U.S.-trained S&E doctorate recipients expect to stay in the United States after graduation. Maintaining pathways for foreign talent and providing educational opportunities for international students are critical to sustaining the STEM workforce.
This report reveals challenges to building U.S. S&E capacity but also presents data that highlight ways in which the United States can address these challenges. The data show the importance of building capacity by investing in R&D, enhancing education and training opportunities, and bringing underrepresented groups into a STEM-educated labor force that reflects the nation’s diversity.