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Need for ATE Programs


A working draft of resources and reports from an NSF-sponsored project intended to strengthen the role of mathematics in Advanced Technological Education (ATE) programs. Intended as a resource for ATE faculty and members of the mathematical community. Comments are welcome by e-mail to the project directors: Susan L. Forman or Lynn A. Steen.


Many indicators suggest that jobs are more important to students now than ever before. The percentage of students who pursue higher education to prepare for a job has more than doubled in the last two decades. Even at Ivy League institutions, most graduates now go directly into the job market instead of to graduate or professional school. Moreover, in the last 25 years, 80% of the total growth in B.A. degrees has been in technical and professional fields, only 20% in liberal arts and sciences. This suggests that a "practice-oriented education" is an attractive supplement to liberal arts and professional education.

Moreover, numerous studies support the importance of new skills for the new high performance workplace. The skills required for the world of contemporary work are not particulary those of traditional school subjects. Instead, they are the kinds of highly interconnected capabilities required to deal with such areas as

Indeed, to succeed in today's economy, people need a strong work ethic, effective interpersonal skills (teamwork, customer relations, leadership) and excellent cognitive skills, especially in language, mathematics, and reasoning.

Despite this need for sophisticated capabilites, 60% of manfacturers surved by the National Association of Manufacturers said that their workers were deficient in quantitative literacy (basic mathematics), 55% in verbal literacy (basic writing and comprehension), and 50% in document literacy (reading drawings, diagrams, and flow charts). "The skills gap could threaten the amazing growth and productivy gains of the past decade," reported E. W. Davenport of the Eastman Chemical Company of Tennessee. Two-thirds of companies provide remedial help in reading, writing, mathematics, and problem-solving; half spend as much as 2% of their payroll costs to train hourly employees--more than four times as much as ten years ago. In recognition of the fact that employment is no longer just a matter of deploying human resources but also developing employee skills, some enterprises (e.g., Cryovac in South Carolina) are changing the name of their employment office from "Human Resources" to "Employee Development."

One consequence of the shortage of skilled labor is a rise in salaries for those few who are prepared to meet the technical needs of the workplace. For example, the U.S. is facing a shortage of approximately 300,000 workers in the information technology sector, yet each year it produces only about one-tenth that number of graduates each in these fields. As a result, starting salaries for C++ and Visual Basic programmers are rising at the rate of 15% a year, and in the information technology area businesses face annual employee turnover rates as high as 20%.

The increasing demand for continuing development of employees' technical skills imposes a special requirement on ATE programs. In addition to the primary requirement to provide students with effective technological education in a paritcular area, ATE programs must also offer students the potential to transfer to other programs or institutions for further education. In mathematics, this requirement of preparedness for life-long learning underscores the importance of a broad education focused on fundamental concepts and important applications.


Judy, Richard W. Workforce 2020. Indianapolis, IN: Hudson Institute, 1998.

Freeland, Richard M. "How Practical Experience Can Help Revitalize our Tired Model of Undergraduate Education." Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb. 19, 1999, B6-B7.

Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS). What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, 1991.

InfoWorld, Feb. 8, 1999, pp. 93-94


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Supported by the Advanced Technological Educaiton (ATE) program at the National Science Foundation. Opinions and information on this site are those of the authors and do not represent the views of either the ATE program or the National Science Foundation.

Copyright © 1999.   Last Updated: October 12, 1999.   Comments to: Susan L. Forman or Lynn A. Steen.