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U.S. Graduates Fewer Engineers Despite Rising Need

Aerospace and biomedical engineering have shot up in popularity while electrical and computer engineering have fallen.

by / June 20, 2008

Despite a growing national demand for their skills, the number of engineers graduating from American colleges is going down, according to a survey released today by the American Society for Engineering Education.

Engineering bachelor's degrees declined in 2007 for the first time since the 1990s, ending seven years of growth. Although the drop was small -- 1.2 percent from the previous year -- the trend may continue for several years. That's because undergraduate enrollment dropped both in 2004 and 2005.

"We are in a time of fluctuating degree and enrollment trends where the post-1990's recovery in engineering degree production has temporarily stalled," said Michael T. Gibbons, ASEE's director of data research, who compiled the comprehensive, 495-page survey, Profiles of Engineering & Engineering Technology Colleges.

The fall in the number of engineering graduates comes at a time of growing technological competition from Asia and mounting concern about problems involving energy, the environment and infrastructure that require engineering solutions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected a need for 160,000 more engineering positions over the 10-year period between 2006 and 2016. This 11 percent increase does not include the replacement of many retiring engineers.

Engineering master's degrees show an even sharper drop than bachelor's degrees, having declined 8.8 percent since 2005. Ph.D.s, by contrast, have been growing an average of 11 percent since 2004.

Within the field, aerospace and biomedical engineering have shot up in popularity while electrical and computer engineering have fallen.

The 2007 edition of the Profiles of Engineering and Engineering Technology Colleges details the state of engineering education today, listing all college enrollments, degrees awarded, faculty and research expenditures at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

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