This isn't an issue just for consumers with children in college. Businesses depend on a well-educated workforce. High tech, in particular, has moaned for years about the lack of matriculating engineers and scientists to feed those hungry twins, Research and Development.
That lack is the rationale for hiring technical personnel from other countries on H-1B visas and outsourcing R&D work. However, large corporations are in an interesting position. Cash rich and growing, they could band together and create a collectively massive scholarship program. They could fuel local innovation, ensure a pipeline of prepared talent, and, last but not least, create an ocean of public good will to offset the bad PR these companies seem to have a genius for creating.
Look at a list of some of the top tech companies based in the U.S.:
- Apple (AAPL)
- Cisco (CSCO)
- Computer Sciences Corp (CSC)
- Dell (DELL)
- EMC (EMC)
- Google (GOOG)
- Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)
- IBM (IBM)
- Intel (INTC)
- Microsoft (MSFT)
- Motorola Solutions (MSI)
- Qualcomm (QCOM)
- Seagate Technology (STX)
- Texas Instruments (TXN)
- Oracle (ORCL)
- Xerox (XRX)
- The corporations would create a big pool of scholarship money for the most promising students in the country. If each kicked in $50 million a year -- less than 0.5 percent of revenue for even the smallest -- that would be $800 million annually. Given that top schools cost $50,000 a year, that would be enough money to keep 16,000 students, whether undergrads or graduate students, in school and focused on learning.
- Combine scholarship money with practical work-study. Anyone who has worked in technology can tell you that graduates still have much to learn to be real working engineers or scientists. So help them hit the ground running when they get the diploma.
- In return for the support, students guarantee that they'll work at a fixed amount -- something reasonable, although not top salaries -- for four years.
Going to other countries for technical help may be wise, but it's hardly sufficient. Look at the number of patents with at least one non-U.S. inventor of these top companies. IBM leads the pack in using foreign talent, and yet has domestically-based inventors only on 77.3 percent of its recent patents.
Aside from the importance such talent development could have to the long-term strength of the companies, but it would be a PR coup. A large number of them routinely put their feet into a public relations quagmires. Regulators put ever more focus on their activities. It would be a way to generate a lot of public love.
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