Report on Reports

10. Shaping the Future... 1998 - National Science Foundation



The year is 2009.

STEM education has been changing and is continuing to change. Relative to the year 1999, many of these changes are ones that were mostly expected, and a few are ones that were mostly unexpected. As expected by most, technology plays a larger role in education than a decade ago.

As expected by only a few, a rather large share of undergraduate STEM education has come to have an ethical, or value–based, component. Basic and especially applied science is no longer viewed as being value–free. As science educators, we are now also beginning to think about how to get those who are not scientifically literate to be a part of the solutions to problems facing our society. This is leading us to push for the integration of the sciences more visibly into the general liberal arts curriculum, which might just be the biggest change we see in undergraduate STEM education in the next decade.

– PKAL F21 Statement, 1999.


…we can no longer be satisfied with incremental improvement in a world of exponential change…

This was the call to action that concluded Shaping the Future: New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science,Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology, a 1996 report from the National Science Foundation. The review committee analyzed several points of exponential change, from the perspective of new challenges within science and society since the time of the “Neal Report.” This analysis served as a foundation for the wide-ranging recommendations made to the broad stakeholder community for immediate action.

Of particular note for our consideration here, Shaping…is one of the earliest of the major reports to carefully connect the dots between the quality of undergraduate STEM programs and the strength of the economy within an increasingly global community. It anticipates 21st century concerns about how to ensure that college graduates have the sophisticated skills– are literate scientifically, technologically, and quantitatively– necessary to be contributing citizens with satisfying careers.

Presciently, this report also speaks about the pressures on higher education because of rising expenditures and growing financial constraints, and that: …these financial restraints present major challenges and reduced opportunities in many institutions to try innovative approaches to undergraduate instruction while placing a premium on productivity-enhancing changes.

But, as illustrated by the recommendations from Shaping…presented on the opposite page, there are many incremental improvements that can be made at minimal cost, as a first step in strengthening learning in undergraduate STEM for all students– for example, setting measurable departmental goals for student learning.