Engineering on the Rise: Engineering Degrees More Popular Now

Across the nation, engineering is gaining in popularity at all degree levels and bachelor's degrees could be on their way to surpassing the 70,000 mark last reached in 1988, according to a recent survey by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

The ASEE reports bachelor's degrees awarded in 2001-2002 increased 3.4 percent to 67,301, marking the third year of growth nationally at the undergraduate level. Overall, bachelor's degrees increased by 7.9 percent since the 1998-1999 academic year.

While the number of undergraduate degrees conferred at Georgia Tech's College of Engineering saw a slight increase during 2001-2002 - up 4.3 percent to 1,231 from the previous year - Tech awarded the nation's second-highest number of bachelor's degrees in engineering, according to the ASEE report. Pennsylvania State University was first, awarding 14 more degrees with 1,245.

Last year also marked the first time in the past three years that Tech saw an increase in the number of bachelor degree awards since 1999. That year Tech awarded 1,293 bachelor degrees. In 2000, the number dropped to 1,243 and, in 2001, to 1,180.

The latest enrollment figures show the upward trend continues at Tech. In the 2003 fiscal year, 1,286 bachelor degrees were awarded in engineering. Tech's strengths in its undergraduate recruitment program have led to the Institute's status of being the largest producer of engineers in the country. In turn, that's helped the College of Engineering maintain its focus on quality and diversity, rather than quantity, said Narl Davidson, associate dean of engineering.

"Our undergraduate enrollments have grown in the past two years due to the success of the Georgia Tech Regional Engineering Program at the GT-Savannah campus and due to the recruiting efforts of the Women-in-Engineering program here in Atlanta," Davidson said.

The ASEE study found that growth in undergraduate degrees is not consistent across the disciplines. For example, in the past three years, biomedical degrees nationally jumped 49 percent at the bachelor's level, while chemical engineering degrees decreased by 11 percent. Electrical and computing engineering bachelor's degrees rose 18 percent.

Nationally, electrical and computer engineering remains the most popular engineering discipline at the undergraduate level (114,456 enrolled). It also awarded the most undergraduate degrees (21,812). Figures at Georgia Tech mirror that trend. Electrical and computer engineering at Tech had the highest undergraduate enrollment of all engineering disciplines (1,826) and awarded the most degrees (333).

Graduate Engineering

The numbers tell a slightly different story at the graduate level. While enrollment for master's and doctoral programs both jumped by over 14 percent from last year, the number of master's degrees awarded increased by only 1.4 percent. Doctoral degrees awarded decreased by 4. 7 percent.

"The weak labor market might be causing more Ph.D. candidates to postpone gradation in favor of staying in their funded positions," said Michael T. Gibbons, a project manager for surveys and statistics at ASEE. "This trend in matriculation comes as a relief to many universities in need of increased teaching support but unable to hire faculty because of hiring freezes."

Georgia Tech was first in the nation for the number of graduate students enrolled in 2001-2002, with 3,165 students. Tech ranked fourth in the number of master's degrees awarded (708) and No. 5 in the number of doctoral degrees awarded.

At the master's and doctoral levels, electrical and computer engineering graduated the most students (10,127 and 1,658 respectively).

Other data for the 2001-2002 academic year show that:

--Georgia Tech is the top producer of women engineering graduates at the bachelor level. Tech awarded 350 bachelor degrees in engineering to women.

--Georgia Tech awarded the most bachelor degrees in chemical engineering than any other school in the nation (133).

--Georgia Tech leads the nation in the number of women engineering faculty who are tenured or tenure-track (44). Rounding out the top five are: MIT (40); Pennsylvania State University (39); Ohio State University (31): and Purdue University (30).

--Georgia Tech awarded the second-largest number of bachelor degrees in mechanical engineering (250). Kettering University awarded the most (252).

--Georgia Tech awarded the second largest number of bachelor's degrees in engineering to African-Americans (123). North Carolina A&T State University awarded the most (222).

--Tech ranked No. 7 in civil engineering degrees (137) and No. 8 in electrical and computer engineering (333).