College costs are rising, as is the demand for qualified science, technology, engineering and mathematics (dubbed STEM) professionals. Experts warn the demand for skilled workers will increasingly outpace the number of qualified graduates in this country.
Over the next four years, Obama will likely expand his education policies.
The $4.35 billion Race to the Top program awards financial aid to states' K-12 school systems that set specific goals, such as establishing standards for assessing teachers, gathering data and finding innovative ways to improve the worst-performing schools. The president told the Des Moines Register that he wants to continue expanding the program in his next term and focus even more on STEM education.
In July, the Obama administration kicked off the national Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Master Teacher Corps program with $100 million in funding. The program will start by training 50 STEM teachers, but the plan is to increase that number to 10,000 teachers over the next four years and to 100,000 over the next decade. The idea is that these specifically qualified teachers will spread their skills and knowledge to other schools and educators around the country.
When those fresh batches of science and math students are out of high school, they will face dauntingly high college costs.
During the campaign, Obama promised to continue to increase the Pell Grant program, which provides need-based financial aid for college. Critics claim that raising the amount of aid doesn't help, because colleges will just continue to raise their costs to meet the increased demand. The Pell Grant got a large boost in Obama's first term with an influx of money that was made available when the administration eliminated the federal guaranteed student loan program, which went through private banks.
While our school systems adjust to produce more tech graduates, Silicon Valley will need fresh talent. One solution is to allow qualified workers from other counties to stay in the United States and take those jobs after college. So far, however, the Obama administration has faced difficulty passing relevant immigration reform.
"We need more green cards so that all these people who are stuck in limbo, these millions of skilled workers -- doctors, scientists, engineers, computer programmers -- can get permanent residency," said Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur and vice president at Singularity University. "They're here legally, they've done everything right."
One potential fix is the bipartisan Startup Act 2.0, which would provide up to 50,000 visas to foreign STEM students who get their master's or doctorate degree in the U.S. The new category of visa would require recipients to work in a science, technology, engineering or math field continuously for five years before they can become a permanent legal resident.
The proposal would also pave the way for entrepreneurs to start businesses in the United States, which could lead to more jobs.
The bill is supported by some tech heavy-hitters, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, and is currently being considered by a congressional committee.