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Education-The Open Door

12/6/2008 7:05:00 PM

by Arthur Jackson
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Education in technology will be the most important area of consideration for our country in the future. This article identifies how we must approach this need in the future.

 The article, "Education -The Open Door" is at the following website;http://www.aeanet.org/PressRoom/wadz_TechLine_Autumn08.asp, ON PAGE 20

 

Education - The Open Door?

 

Technology will shape the world of tomorrow, and nations without sufficient numbers of trained engineers, technicians, and computer specialist will find it difficult to compete in such a world. The United States has long been a global leader of technology and has been at the forefront of this movement in establishing standards and procedures for future innovation and development. Yet today, as in the past, this leadership is being challenged from without, and within. Externally, other countries are competing fiercely to take the lead in the growing technological fields so critical to that future. Internally, an age-old dispute over the process of education in this country may pose an even greater threat to America’s continued dominance. 

The scope of the challenge was best stated in 1983:

The challenge confronting engineering and engineering education has been best expressed in a 1983 policy statement by the National Science Board: The United States is at a critical juncture in its industrial leadership. Not since Sputnik in 1957 has there been so much cause for concern about the adequacy of our science and technology base and our ability to capitalize on our scientific strengths to sustain industrial leadership. We face foreign competitors who have growing skills, lower costs, and higher productivity growth. These factors affect the security of our Nation, the standard of living of our people, and our legacy for future generations.

 

Statement on the Engineering Mission of the NSF Over the Next Decade as Adopted by the National Science Board at Its 246th Meeting on August 18-19, 1983.

 

America’s continuation as a leader of technological innovation may rest on the resolution of a century old question: are the doors to American universities open to the masses, or only to a select few?  The answer to this question will determine not only the number of graduates in fields such as computer science, engineering, and technology, but the future role of this country in technology.  To understand this conundrum, we need to take a brief look at the history of engineering in America. 

Engineering is an old profession, but the areas of engineering that most affect today's world of technology are relatively new.  In the United States prior to World War II, the total number of engineering master’s degrees was only about a thousand, and doctorates around 100 per year.

 

Of the engineering baccalaureates awarded in 1940, the master's degrees were 12 percent and the doctor's degrees were 1.5 percent.

 

Engineering Graduate Education and Research, NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS

Washington, D.C. 1985

 

            At the start of the war, with the development of new systems such as radar and later work on such projects as the development of nuclear weapons, the age of modern engineering began. However, it should be noted that most of the work in these highly technical areas would be completed by scientists with advanced degrees operating as engineers and not actual trained engineers. This acute shortage of competent and qualified engineers would prompt the creation of a national study after the war to address methods to increase the number of qualified engineers. The Grinter Report was completed in 1955 by the American Society for Engineering Education and addressed the need for expanding educational opportunity to provide qualified numbers of engineers. The report was quite comprehensive; it addressed the nature of education and the type of individual who should be located and encouraged to pursue a career as an engineer from bachelor’s degree to advanced degrees at the masters and doctoral level. This report was largely responsible for opening the doors of many institutions to increasing numbers of individuals in the fields of Electrical Engineering, Electronics, and Technology. There was a follow-up report by the Presidents Science Advisory Committee in 1962, which would further augment the need for more graduates and lead to economic incentives to enter technical fields. The Grinter Report had a profound impact on the number of applicants to traditional institutions after the war, as large numbers of returning G.I.s took advantage of a new economic incentive, the G.I. Bill, to continue their education, and in many cases to become first-time degree earners. The creation of the G.I. Bill was a key incentive for traditional universities and institutions of higher learning across the country to open their doors to an expanded population of applicants. From the 1950s until the 1960s, there were an unprecedented number of applications and graduations in the technical field. 

 

Total U.S. Engineering Degrees granted by Year

Year

Ending

 

Bachelor's Degrees

 

Master's Degrees

 

Doctor's Degrees

 

1950

48,160

4,865

492

1951

37,887

5,134

586

1952

27,155

4,132

586

1953

24,165

3,636

592

1954

22,236

4,078

590

1955

22,589

4,379

599

1956

26,306

4,589

610

1957

31,221

5,093

596

1958

35,332

5,669

647

1959

38,134

6,615

714

1960

37,808

6,989

786

1961

35,860

7,997

943

1962

34,735

8,909

1,207

1963

33,458

9,460

1,378

1964

35,226

10,827

1,693

 

Data from Engineering Graduate Education and Research http://www.nap.edu/catalog/585.html

 

This explosion in graduation rates of scientists, engineers, and technicians made it possible to create a new era of technological innovation and growth. In a very literal sense, the sky was not the limit as many of these new graduates participated in the opening up of space with the Apollo program and the moon landing . However, the increased numbers of applicants to major universities omitted several important groups from their ranks: older adults, women, and minorities. Traditional colleges and universities remained largely closed to this growing section of the American populace. This would continue to be the case until the late ‘60’. 

            The 1960s would become more than just an era of space travel. It was the start of two movements that would come together to change technical education forever: civil rights and the emergence of the non-traditional university. These for-profit schools came into existence to fill a critical need: large numbers of older working adults, minorities, and women were seeking access to education. In response to this demand, a new generation of institutions emerged to help mainstream universities fill this need. These institutions, although different in nature that traditional universities, were serving the needs of the business community to provide an increasing number of technological graduates with a broader spectrum of capabilities. Students at for-profit universities are disproportionately lower-income and minority compared to traditional college students. These institutions were critical to providing access to education for the growing numbers of minorities that would come to represent 48% of students enrolled in for-profits compared to 33% at public institutions.

 Both types of institutions responded by opening their doors to increase the number of applicants and graduates from differing segments of society. These graduates would go on to become the leaders of the new technological era: the Internet. They would become the leaders of such industrial giants as General Electric and Hewlett-Packard. They would lead the nation and the world to a time of unprecedented interconnectivity and technological expansion. The world would have access to global communications and data access unprecedented in human history. Despite these achievements, in part the result of the expanded access to education through alternative schools, we find the doors of higher education once again closing. Declining funding and enrollments are important issues, but a major component is the resolution of this debate: who should be educated, and what schools should be the vehicle of that education?

            Traditional and non-traditional universities must coordinate their efforts to provide an integrated, multi-path system of education in this country. Whether the student enters the system through a mainstream university, non-tradition university, or community college should be immaterial to the ultimate goal of increasing the number and quality of graduates. We must move beyond the perceptions of the importance of individual educational institutions and on to the critical needs of the country and larger society. A multi-path system means using all the educational resources available to increase graduate numbers. To date, less than half of all admissions result in graduation.

 

 

 

 

Average Graduation and Enrollment Rates

 

Blacks

Hispanics

Average

Graduation rates of full-time, first-time, degree/certificate-seeking undergraduates within 150% of normal time to

program completion, by race/ethnicity:

 

17%

27%

35%

Percent of all undergraduate students enrolled, by race/ethnicity: Fall 2006

 

3%

4%

58%

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS): Spring 2007.

 

This is a factor that cannot, and must not, be ignored lest we find ourselves, as a country, in the same situation as another technological giant: Japan. 

            The Japanese created a technological society that rivaled that of the United States during the '70s , '80s, and ‘90s. They graduated record numbers of engineers, computer specialists, and technologist to fuel and maintain their society. Recently, they have been forced to the admit that their single source educational system will not be able to supply the numbers of engineers, computer specialist, and technologists necessary to maintain their technological society. They are currently being forced to import thousands of engineers from India and China each year. Although they have engaged in a crash effort to retool their educational system to attract more of their citizens into these technological fields and to provide multiple paths to degrees, the effort may be too little, too late. A similar fate may await the United States should we ignore the warnings from Japan. 

            The educational system we put into place must be efficient but allow the use of alternative and multiple systems of education to meet future needs in technology. It has always been an open question as to whether the purpose of higher education is to provide an open-door policy for the largest possible number of students or to act to limit access to those who can demonstrate superior academic ability. From the inception of this country, traditional universities have been largely the purview of privilege and wealth. Only the most gifted or the most privileged were allowed entrance into the hallways of higher education. This guiding principle served to limit access to these institutions. Closing the doors to education does not serve the interest of American society. We need to increase the numbers of graduates to stay competitive in today’s world. Although some would argue that this is sacrificing quality to quantity, that is a false assertion. These are the same people who will rail against the increasing numbers of foreign graduates companies will have to hire under H2B visas when American universities cannot, or will not, meet their needs. Companies will find the numbers they seek, including from non-traditional sources or foreign sources, if need be.

  In this decade, the doors to higher education are again beginning to close as universities once again struggle with the purpose of higher education. This time, the debate centers on the role of for-profit institutions in education. The numbers of applications and graduates are once again in decline. Will it would take another dramatic change in American society to reverse the trend?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

Fackle, Martin, High-Tech Japanese, Running Out of Engineers, New York Times, May 17, 2008

 

Garwin, Richard L. PRESIDENTIAL SCIENCE ADVISING, Technology in Society September 5, 1979

 

Grinter,  L. sE. (Chairman), Report on Evaluation of Engineering Education (Washington, D. C., American Society for Engineering Education, June 15, 1955).

 

 

Hentschke, Guilbert C. For-Profit Postsecondary Institutions: Beyond the Initial Stereotypes, Center for Higher education Policy Analysis, Volume III, Issue I, Fall 2003

 

Kemper, John D. (Chairman),  Engineering Graduate Education and Research Report, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. 1985

 

 

Statement on the Engineering Mission of the NSF Over the Next Decade as Adopted by the National Science Board at Its 246th Meeting on August 18-19, 1983.

 

Vocational Education in the United States, Toward the Year 2000, NCES 2000-029, Washington, D.C., p. 155

 

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS): Spring 2007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

techline AeA, Fall of 2008


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