Reengineering Perceptions

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After a brief recovery period, the number of engineering graduates in the U.S. has been declining over the past three years.

Masters degree enrollments in engineering, after peaking at 91,000 in 2003, have declined to 83,000 in 2006, while PhD enrollments have leveled off at 57,000. However, enrollment numbers only tell a partial story: the ratio of enrollment rates versus graduation rates paint an even grimmer picture with only 55 percent of those enrolled in undergraduate engineering programs completing their degrees. Furthermore, 40 percent of master’s recipients in the U.S. are foreign nationals.

The most recent comparative enrollment data from abroad tells a similarly disturbing story. The United States produced roughly 70,000 undergraduate engineers in 2004, while China graduated 600,000 and India 350,000 National Academy of Engineering, 2005; U.S. Department of Education, 2006). While the number of engineering graduates in China and India has increased, the number in the U.S. has fallen, the Journal of Engineering Education reported in January 2008.

The United States needs to be a leader in producing engineers and technologists — but if current trends persist,  American scientists and engineers will be swamped by overseas competition.

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