For more than a decade, the U.S. economic infrastructure has been moving toward an innovation-based economy, one that emphasizes and leverages the application of knowledge from an advanced workforce to build and diversify an economy. A population trained for careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Health – or STEM-H – creates an advanced workforce and a knowledge base that is key to current and future economic development in many states, including New Mexico. The strong linkage between science and technology in measuring economic performance has been demonstrated by entities such as the Milken Institute, which nationally ranks New Mexico 21st overall in areas of research and development, human capital investment and technologic concentration – ahead of states such as Arizona, Georgia and Indiana.
New Mexico already enjoys some of the benefits of an innovation-based economy with stable, high-paying STEM-H careers thanks to our two national laboratories and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Our institutions of higher learning have made great strides to increase the state’s Human Capital Investment, which is measured in part by the number of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in science and engineering per capita. The infrastructure that supports growing high-tech employment and developing technology centers, both of which drive long-term economic growth, is also improving in our state, moving New Mexico from 31st to 23rd nationally, according to Milken. Thus, it is imperative that New Mexico continues to support the ongoing efforts of STEM-H education and advanced workforce training.
New Mexico is one of three states noted for making the biggest gains in its Human Capital Investment rankings, according to Milken’s most recent State and Technology Index. New Mexico has risen from 25th to 14th between the years 2014-16, based on improvements in SAT scores, and an increase in the number of recent graduates in science, engineering and health.
The Milken Institute Index also scored New Mexico well in state appropriations for higher education and, thanks in part to top research institutions, in the share of population with Ph.D.s. Studies suggest that engineers, biochemists and software developers/computing specialists with advanced degrees are the ones whose research drives those high-tech industries that provide stable, long-term growth for communities and states.
Thoughtful and visionary funding for STEM-H education in New Mexico’s universities plays a major role in the continued growth of New Mexico’s Human Capital. Universities and colleges produce both the research that drives private-sector application and the talented people that industry requires to transform research into practical applications. The application of research into commercially viable products happens when an educated citizenry is equipped with the proper tools and training needed to develop research results into a marketable product and the entrepreneurial skills to take that research to market, all of which help to build the innovation economy of New Mexico.
New Mexico’s diverse economic future relies heavily on statewide recognition of the importance of STEM-H education from early childhood throughout adulthood. Continued and even expanded support of STEM-H education in universities and colleges in the upcoming legislative session is absolutely crucial if New Mexico wants to build a stronger, more diverse economy. We need to not only maintain, but also strengthen our funding support for these institutions to continue creating an environment, or ecosystem, of economic development, job growth and wealth creation. If we fail to see New Mexico’s higher education system as the underpinnings to all other efforts to grow our STEM-H ecosystems or understand they are the drivers for growing a stable, innovation-based economy, then we face losing major opportunities for economic growth to those states that do.