Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Engineering is Hard

Some fairly simplistic analysis from Mark Bauerlein. He lists the starting salaries for a number of engineering degrees and wonders why more students aren't completing bachelor's degrees in engineering. As someone who actually teaches engineering, I would point to a number of factors that limit the number of students pursuing degrees in engineering. Number one on the list is difficulty. The entry level math course for engineering is Calculus I and many colleges are moving to make Calc II the first math course. How many of our students are ready for Calc I their first semester? Even students that excel at math may opt of a business degree, which they perceive as "easier."

I have a colleague who worships Bauerlein and his book "The Dumbest Generation." While the book makes some good points, I think in the end Bauerlein underestimates what our kids can do. I would argue that our kids live in a digital world, but many of us are still teaching them in an analog world. Bauerlein points to kids immersion in digital and electronic media and their inability to recall facts and figures that have traditionally been taught in schools. I would argue that this has nothing to do with technology - think of Jay Leno's "jay-walking" segment and the number of adults (not digital natives) that can't answer simple questions. Our kids can do things with technology that earlier generations couldn't even dream of. So what do we do? We bring them into class and tell them to turn off their cell phones, put away their laptops, and take out a pad of paper and a pen or pencil. Maybe if we occasionally engaged them with technology, they could learn the Gettysburg address and some of the other facts and figures that we use to measure knowledge in our analog worlds. And maybe we could start measuring knowledge in new ways.

Salary by Major
The National Association of Colleges and Employers has released Winter 2010 results of its ongoing survey of starting salaries for different bachelor degrees. Here are the top ten:

Petroleum Engineering $86,220

Chemical Engineering $65,142

Mining and Mineral Engineering $64,552

Computer Science $61,205

Computer Engineering $60,879

Electrical/Electronics & Communications Engineering $59,074

Mechanical Engineering $58,392

Industrial/Manufacturing Engineering $57,734

Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering $57,231

Information Sciences & Systems $54,038

A summary appears here.

Why, one wonders, haven't the number of bachelor's degrees in engineering shot upward in the last 10 years?

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