Already, the United States has been trailing Asia in science and engineering degrees. Fifty-six percent of all engineering degrees were awarded in Asia in 2008, compared with 4 percent in the U.S.

The United States produced 248,000 graduates in the fields of natural science and engineering, while China produced 1 million, a dramatic increase from 2000, when they awarded 280,000. South Korea, Taiwan and Japan produced 330,000 natural science and engineering graduates in 2008 — again, a larger number than the U.S., even though their population is smaller.

“Right now our aspirations for higher education I think far exceed the vitality of our economy,” Palmer said, referring to the push to increase access to college and degree completion. “In other words, we can’t depend on that state funding as the way we’re going to meet those goals.”

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