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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    House Document No. 13

    Document Title
    Executive Summary of the Joint Subcommittee Studying Ways to Promote the Inclusion of Science and Technology Education in Business, Law, and Policy Graduate Programs at State Institutions of Higher Education

    Division of Legislative Services, Joint Subcommittee

    Enabling Authority
    HJR 611 (Regular Session, 2007)

    Executive Summary
    House Joint Resolution 611 (2007) established a joint subcommittee to study ways to promote the inclusion of science and technology education in business, law, and policy graduate programs at state institutions of higher education. The joint subcommittee met three times during the 2007 Interim. At the first meeting, Delegate Harry R. Purkey, patron of HJ 611, was elected chairman, and Senator Frank M. Ruff, Jr. was elected as vice-chairman.

    The joint subcommittee was tasked with four key charges: (i) to review the curricula of existing graduate programs in business, law, and policy at the Commonwealth's institutions of higher education; (ii) to review and recommend innovative ways to encourage students to specialize in science and technology in their respective business, law, or policy graduate programs; (iii) to examine ways to encourage partnerships between business, law, and policy graduate programs and math, science, engineering, and technology graduate programs; and (iv) to examine ways to encourage partnerships between business, law, and policy graduate programs and science and technology-based businesses.

    Over the course of the three meetings, the joint subcommittee heard several presentations. Alan F. Edwards, Director of Policy Studies at the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), provided an overview of SCHEV's oversight of graduate programs at public institutions of higher education. Currently, pursuant to the Code of Virginia, SCHEV approves new degree programs, reviews existing programs' productivity, and reviews proposed closure of "high demand" or "critical shortage area" degree programs. In reviewing proposals for new programs, SCHEV considers market demand, student demand, resource needs, and several other factors. While SCHEV review is required for new programs, it is not required for concentrations, tracks, or emphases within existing programs.

    In reviewing the joint subcommittee's charges, Mr. Edwards suggested that the joint subcommittee focus on ways to encourage partnerships between existing business, law, and policy graduate programs and existing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduate programs. He also suggested an emphasis on developing partnerships between business, law, and policy graduate programs and technology-based businesses in the Commonwealth. He also recommended that public institutions should be encouraged to develop STEM tracks and concentrations within existing business, law, and policy programs, as this can often be done with existing resources and would not require SCHEV approval. Establishing joint degree programs (such as simultaneous masters and law degree programs) should also be encouraged. Finally, he encouraged the establishment of new interdisciplinary degree programs, although he noted that this approach would require SCHEV approval, and would also likely require additional faculty and administrative funds.

    Dr. James Groves, Assistant Dean for Research and Outreach at the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science, provided the joint subcommittee with a presentation regarding the University's "Produced in Virginia" engineering program. The pilot program, developed in conjunction with the Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg and area industries such as Areva and Micron Technologies, allows students to earn an associate degree in engineering at community college, and then continue their studies towards a bachelors degree in engineering from the University of Virginia while remaining in their communities.

    Students began Central Virginia Community College's new Associate of Science in Engineering program this fall; University of Virginia anticipates making bachelors level engineering classes available to students who complete the associates degree beginning in May of 2009. The University of Virginia classes will be offered in an online, asynchronous distance learning format. The goal of the program is to provide greater access to an engineering education in the Commonwealth, while allowing students to stay in their community. More information about the program is available online at www.seas.virginia.edu/producedinva.

    Dr. Ron Kander, head of the Department of Integrated Science and Technology (ISAT) at James Madison University, provided an overview of the ISAT programs. The undergraduate degree program, which graduated its first class in 1997, was designed in response to a legislative challenge to develop "degrees of the future." ISAT now offers a graduate program, as well as the opportunity for undergraduate majors to seamlessly move into an MBA program after graduation.

    The focus of the ISAT program is a new way to teach applied sciences. Instead of studying individual science fields, such as biology or chemistry, students focus on "problems" with a scientific component -- such as how to develop renewable energy or bioinformatics issues. Students study not only the sciences related to these issues, but also the social, economic, political, legal, and ethical issues components of the issues. There is also a strong focus on critical thinking and communication skills in the program. The end result is producing "versatalists" for the workforce. More information about the ISAT program can be found at www.jmu.edu/cisat/.

    Next, Doug Koelemay, representing the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC), responded to requests from the joint subcommittee at the first meeting to get a business perspective on the need to incorporate more STEM education into business, law, and policy programs. Mr. Koelemay said that NVTC surveyed two groups with questions such as how important is a science background for any advanced degree, would a science or technology background help in hiring for policy-related positions, and are companies satisfied with the amount of science and technology background currently provided in policy programs.

    The first group to answer the questions were companies that had self-selected to serve on NVTC's legislative and policy committee. While there was no concrete answer to any of these questions, this group largely felt that the marketplace would respond to the education needs, and competitiveness of the market would drive students to seek out the specialties and skills needed to acquire jobs. Instead of focusing on science and technology education at the graduate level, this group thought that emphasis should be placed on filling the STEM pipeline generally, and on ensuring robust teaching is available in these areas.

    The other group surveyed was comprised of large government contractors in the Northern Virginia area. This group felt that it would be helpful for policy graduates to have a STEM background, and that graduate programs in business, policy, and the law should offer classes in understanding technology. In hiring, this group felt that a graduate with a STEM background would have an advantage with an otherwise comparable candidate.

    Discussions of the members of the joint subcommittee frequently turned away from business, law, and policy graduate programs, and instead leaned towards discussions about the need to incentivize more students to pursue science, math, and technology studies at the undergraduate and graduate level in order to meet the workforce demands of Virginia's technology economy. The group was briefed on the on-going work of the joint subcommittee studying science, technology, engineering, and math education (HJ 25 (2006)). Because HJ 25 was developing recommendations focusing on improving STEM education at the K12 level, the effects of which will be felt in five to ten years, it was suggested that work also was needed to increase STEM undergraduate and graduate students in the more immediate future.

    The joint subcommittee recommended that discussions needed to continue, but that if a resolution was introduced to the General Assembly to continue the study, the focus should be on STEM undergraduate and graduate programs, and not on the inclusion of STEM education in business, law, and policy graduate programs. Possible topics of discussion for such a study might include a tax incentive program for businesses that provide tuition grants for STEM students, and ways to duplicate the type of program being developed between the University of Virginia and Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg.

    This executive summary constitutes the final report of HJ 611.