An engineering degree = a job

May 19, 2006

It's a case of supply and demand; there are plenty of jobs in engineering, science and technology and not enough graduates. The U.S. GAO has recommendations to improve the gap but Kettering is already ahead of the curve and then some.

College enrollment is booming but the number of students graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is declining - at an alarming rate according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) May 3.

Ironically, the demand for STEM graduates is growing as fast as the number of students entering these fields is declining, causing starting salaries for graduates with STEM degrees to go up significantly.

This growing gap between supply and demand has many asking "If the number of STEM graduates continues to decline, will the U.S. be able to meet future academic and employment needs to maintain its technological competitive advantage in the world market?"

What is keeping students from entering STEM programs in higher education?

It is a question being asked in the halls of academia and in Washington. The answer includes variables ranging from poor mathematics and science preparation in K-12 education, insufficient levels of mathematics and science courses completed during high school, additional tuition costs required to obtain STEM degrees, and the availability of mentoring, especially for women and minorities in STEM careers.

If you ask graduating engineers, they'll tell you it's a lack of understanding. "It's the perception that all Engineering and technology programs are difficult and hard to get through," said Rachel Charron, a Chemistry major from Nottingham, Maryland, and Kettering senior. Charron will graduate in June and start work as a General Motors environmental engineer in Milford, Mich., in July. In her opinion STEM programs aren't as difficult as many students think.

Matthew Hilgendorf, of Cedarburg, Wis., who will also graduate in June, agrees with Charron, somewhat. He feels a lot of high school students have a good understanding of the academic requirements of engineering, but that academia and industry don't market the career fields well to make engineering relevant for college-bound students.

"We are not marketing the fact that mechanical engineers test car seats to design better models, or develop the processes that produce pacemakers, or that industrial engineers optimize healthcare workplaces and computer engineers are developing nanotechnology to put computer processors in the smallest devices on earth, and so on," he said.

Hilgendorf is already working in Manufacturing Research and Development as a senior associate engineer for Caterpillar Inc. in Illinois.

The GAO recommendations for increasing interest in STEM fields include things that support what Charron and Hilgendorf said, such as increasing understanding of engineering and technology fields early with outreach to primary and secondary students beginning in Kindergarten, especially to female and minority students and increasing the use of mentors to encourage enrollment in STEM disciplines. (Click on this link for the complete GAO report "Higher Education: Science, Technology, and Mathematics Trends and the Role of Federal Programs".)

Like most universities offering degrees in STEM disciplines, Kettering is affected by the decline in students interested in science, math and engineering, but the university is also maintaining its market share through innovation and its ability to make engineering relevant and real for students - something Charron and Hilgendorf both said kept them interested.

Kettering is ahead of the curve with aggressive pre-college programs, FIRST Robotics, outreach programming for K-12 education in development, programs to support and mentor women and minority students, and professional mentoring for all students through Kettering's unique co-op program that begins in the freshman year.



Kettering's partnership with industry puts students into the workforce their freshman year to gain hands-on, real world work experience. Today's college student is thinking of their future and wanting to get started right away, to jump start their careers and start making a difference now, not in five years when they graduate from college. Co-op that relates to their field of academic study gives them that opportunity, as well as provides them with professional and academic mentors.

Industry officials appreciate this hands-on, real world experience approach to education. Heinz Schulte, senior vice president of Project Management and Organizational Development at the Robert Bosch Corp., was on campus May 10 and told local media that Bosch is very supportive of Kettering's co-op program.

"The graduates and co-op students we have from Kettering understand our business well because of the co-op program, and we see that as an advantage," Schulte said. "Co-op is a good combination of training and education. Kettering students understand the workplace better than someone from a strictly academic program who goes to school first and then enters the workplace," he added.

Before they arrive on campus, Kettering has programs to nurture potential students.

Pre-college programs work:
To get them in the door, Kettering reaches out to students in high school through pre-college programs like AIM (Academically Interested Minorities) LITE (Lives Improve Through Engineering) and Discover U. AIM and LITE are residential programs for juniors and seniors in high school, designed to give minorities and young women a first-hand look at STEM degree programs and careers. Discover U is a year-round day program for young women from Genesee County. In addition, Kettering introduces junior high school girls to STEM degrees and careers through Kamp Kettering,atwo-week summer program.



The number of students from these programs who matriculate add up. AIM has 38.6 percent of participants enroll, 33 percent of LITE participants later enroll and Kamp Kettering has a 12 percent matriculation rate. Discover U, still in its first year of operation, has no matriculation information.

In development is the university's participation in Project Lead The Way Inc. (PLTW), a national program forming partnerships among public schools, higher education Institutions and the private sector.

The bottom line:
For students entering STEM programs the job outlook is more than rosy. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), competition is heating up for new and future college graduates - especially in the STEM disciplines.

This increased competition is translating into higher starting salaries. The NACE Spring 2006 Salary Survey report shows that many disciplines at the bachelor's degree level are getting salary offers better than those offered just a year ago, according to the NACE web site.

"It's a buyer's market for recent STEM graduates," said Bob Nichols, vice president for Enrollment Management at Kettering, "the gap between the demand for engineers and scientists and the declining number of graduates in those fields is growing," he added.

Nearly all engineering disciplines posted solid increases. The average salary offer to chemical engineering graduates rose 4.2 percent, to civil engineering graduates 4.8 percent, to computer engineering graduates a healthy 5.3 percent, and for electrical engineers 3.9 percent.

In the sciences, the U.S. Department of Labor indicates that median salaries are strong, with Chemists median salaries at $63,470, Materials Scientists earning $74,350, Bio-Chemists receiving $75,320 and Physicists earning the top median salary at $91,480.

Written by Dawn Hibbard