NDAA’s JROTC STEM Grant Program Must Now be Fully Funded

By Norberto Salinas, Senior Counsel and Director of Global Workforce Policy, Intel

The final FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act contains a provision critical to expanding STEM education in the United States. Based on the Providing Resources and Organization to Maximize Opportunities for Training and Education in STEM (PROMOTES Act), the language in the NDAA will establish a grant program to increase the training and education of Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

When signed into law, the provision will provide a framework to prepare JROTC students with the necessary skills to develop future innovations and become the next generation of technologists. However, $20 million in funding must still be provided through Department of Defense appropriations legislation to put this program into practice. This essential funding will provide support for instructors; the acquisition of materials, hardware, and software; efforts and events that improve the quality of the educational experience; the development of travel opportunities; mentoring programs and informal education; and the pursuit of certifications in STEM subjects.

Through the NDAA, Congress has recognized the urgent need to increase access to STEM training among diverse student populations. JROTC cadets are an untapped resource to help fill the future STEM workforce pipeline, as many of the 545,000 cadets nationwide are underrepresented minorities, over 40% are female, and 68% do not have access to AP computer science courses in their schools. They also have already proven that STEM education initiatives within the JROTC program can be successful.

In an Oklahoma JROTC-CS Demonstration Project, three Air Force JROTC partner schools increased capacity for computer science and cybersecurity, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, students are succeeding. Teachers have also been able to attend cybersecurity professional development sessions, and AP Computer Science Principles courses are being implemented at partner schools.

As we look to the future, we must ensure that there is a diverse, well-trained generation of STEM talent ready to fill the jobs of tomorrow. These jobs will bolster our economy, strengthen our national security and maintain the U.S.’ status as a global leader in next-generation science and technology. We strongly encourage Congress to appropriate $20 million to fully support these JROTC STEM programs.