The number of U.S. college students beginning engineering studies grew by nearly 9% in the past seven years but new engineering enrollments in Michigan dropped by more than 13% during that same period. Those numbers reflect a crisis in the U.S. and a catastrophe in Michigan, according to Leo E. Hanifin, dean of the College of Engineering and Science at the University of Detroit Mercy (www.udmercy.edu) and director of the Michigan Ohio (MIOH) University Transportation Center (www.mioh-utc.udmercy.edu), a five-university coalition.
Speaking at the Center for Automotive Research’s (www.cargroup.org) Management Briefing Sessions in Traverse City, MI, Dr. Hanifin noted that 45% of college students in China are studying engineering compared with about 4.5% of college students in the U.S.
He attributed low engineering enrollment nationally to “poor preparation and low interest, especially among women and minorities.” He added that in Michigan, “the precipitous drop is clearly linked to the poor performance, layoffs and generally ‘bad vibes’ that the auto industry is putting out.” If the poor performance of the auto industry is allowed to continue to drive down engineering enrollments, he added, “it will continue to contribute to (the industry’s) poor performance in the future.”
A “perfect storm” of circumstances is approaching that will, unless addressed, assure that our supply of engineers will be woefully inadequate, according to Dr. Hanifin. The factors include massive retirements of “boomer engineers,” a demographic downswing in the number of college-aged students and a corresponding upswing in college students’ ethnic diversity, a drop in the number of foreign engineering students studying in the U.S. and a reduced interest among them to stay in the U.S., and increased international competition for technical talent. “The problem of low engineering enrollments can only be solved by decisive action that includes specific collaborations and changes in national programs and public policy,” he said.
The industry also needs engineers who are very different from those of the past and present,” according to Dr. Hanifin. He noted a report, “The Engineer of 2020,” issued last year by a group of national engineering leaders from industry, government and academia. The report stressed the need for strong analytical skills, practical ingenuity, creativity, and leadership, among other key attributes necessary for success in 2020.
“We need engineers with innovative and entrepreneurial mindsets and capabilities. We need engineers who have the confidence and passion to lead global multicultural teams,” Dr. Hanifin said. “Instead, we’ve educated ‘Dilberts,’ content to live their lives in cubicles keeping their heads down for fear of being caught making a mistake.” Dr. Hanifin contended.