Graduate Programs Feel the Heat
The past few years have been good for engineering colleges. The shock of the Great Recession propelled more students toward degrees with solid career prospects, boosting enrollment. Faculties and facilities expanded across the country. Enthusiasm for STEM grew at national and state levels. Federal support for research, after a couple of years’ decline, picked up. Government and investors are encouraging engineering start-ups. But a cloud hangs over the enterprise. Engineering graduate programs are heavily reliant on international students—on master’s enrollment for revenue and on Ph.D. candidates for research assistants, post-docs, teaching assistants, and future faculty. As Beryl Benderly reports in our cover story, there simply aren’t enough domestic students pursuing Ph.D.’s to support America’s research establishment. The threat began with President Trump’s visa crackdown, which mostly affected arrivals from Muslim countries. Prominent among them were Iranian students, a large proportion of whom pursue engineering Ph.D.’s (Prism, March-April 2017). Now, attention has turned to Chinese students. FBI Director Christopher Wray, whose agency has actively investigated allegations of espionage and intellectual property theft by China, has criticized “a level of naivete” among academics toward Chinese infiltration. Engineering schools may try to reassure foreign students they’re welcome here, but a different message is coming from the U.S. government. New York University’s Tandon School has come up with an engineer’s approach to solving the problem: Hoping to attract more domestic graduate students, it’s offering an intensive online prep course to nonengineers so they can enroll in an engineering master’s program. Other schools may follow.
In an era of rapid technological advances and disruption, how can schools provide the latest training? Some, like Penn State, have embraced micro-credentials as a way to instill granular, real-world competencies in intense, extracurricular bursts that don’t skew academic calendars or burden faculty, Mary Lord reports. Others offer digital badges in areas from 3-D printing to project-management fundamentals. Robert Morris University’s engineering school may house the boldest foray yet: three 12- or 18-credit certificate programs in energy technology, basic manufacturing, and additive manufacturing to be delivered off campus at a new research and training center.
Finally, a salute to Gilda Barabino, engineering dean at the City College of New York, who serves on Prism’s editorial advisory board. One of nine ASEE members recently elected to the National Academy of Engineering, she was cited for “leadership in bioengineering research and inclusive models of bioengineering education and faculty mentoring.”