Talent at Risk
The United States currently hosts just about one-fourth the number of Iranian students who were here in November 1979, when militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Yet even the current number—12,269—is remarkable given the near-constant tension between the U.S. and Iranian governments in the four decades since the 444-day hostage crisis. That these (mostly graduate-level) students still come speaks well of the treatment they receive on U.S. campuses and their own aspirations. But the benefit flows both ways. While the students earn degrees at some of the world’s best universities, they contribute to research benefiting not just their schools, but also American innovation. Our cover story offers a glimpse into some of this work, ranging from new materials to robotics and next-generation software. The students’ talent will be hard to replace if they are discouraged from coming or barred from the country.
While the current visa crisis has yet to play itself out, it serves as a new reminder of something Prism explored in our January 2016 cover story: the dependence of engineering graduate schools on international students and the relative paucity of American-born candidates for advanced degrees. While Iranian students feel themselves in limbo, wondering if they should—or will be allowed to—stay, their plight exposes how vulnerable our grad schools are to the swings of national policy.
Two other stories this month approach the jobs-technology conundrum from different angles. In “Replaced by Machines,” Tom Grose talks to economists and engineering faculty members about the likely impact of artificial intelligence on the workplace. With some important exceptions, they predict that advances in automation will be a net gain for prosperity and for jobs. But this does little for those displaced in the meantime, and the United States spends far less than other advanced countries on retraining. “Course Correction” by Beryl Benderly describes a remarkably successful exception to this trend, but at the graduate level: Georgia Tech’s $7,000 online computer science master’s program, which reveals pent-up demand for advanced training by U.S. computer engineers.
We hope you enjoy this month’s Prism.