Building on the Strengths of Kansas State University to Meet the Need for Kansas Engineers
Dean, College of Engineering
Economic development and wealth creation are greatly impacted by the contributions of engineers, yet nationally and locally in Kansas, engineers are in critically short supply. The National Academies report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," recognizes that as much as 85 percent of measured growth in income per capita in the United States is due to technological advancements made by engineers. Despite downturns in many sectors of the economy, current and projected demands for engineering graduates are high, and there are clear indicators this trend will continue. The United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, projects that 11 percent more new engineering graduates, beyond the current base, will be needed over the next 10 years. This does not include the assured depletion of our current base due to retirements of engineers from the "baby boomer" generation.
The Kansas economy is critically linked to the engineering professional workforce. Eighty percent of all science and technology-based occupations in the state stem from engineering and information technology fields. In 2008, the top 25 U.S. exports via Kansas fell largely into two commodity categories - agriculture and engineering-intensive machines and equipment. Of the $8.1 billion export value of these top 25 commodities, engineering-intensive commodities accounted for more than $5.5 billion or two-thirds of the total.
The economic future of Kansas is dependent upon its universities graduating qualified engineers who will go to work for Kansas industries paying competitive engineering salaries. Increasing this workforce has the potential to carry the state forward by increasing the size of the tax base. Economic impact from engineering professionals also provides a significant benefit to other segments of the Kansas workforce.
Since 2008, the president of the Kansas Senate, the Honorable Steve Morris, has worked with the deans of engineering at Kansas State University (K-State), the University of Kansas (KU) and Wichita State University (WSU) to develop a proposal that would dramatically increase the number of students graduating from these academic programs. On March 10, 2011, Senate Bill 235 was announced, which added significant state support to growing the engineering infrastructures at the regents' universities with engineering programs. This bill, the "University Engineering Initiative Act (UEIA)," was designed to provide funds for each of the three engineering colleges/schools through the expanded lottery act revenue fund (ELARF).
On May 25, 2011, Governor Sam Brownback signed the UEIA into law. The celebrated event creates an unprecedented opportunity for the three regents' universities having engineering colleges/schools (specifically, K-State, KU and WSU) to exponentially increase the number of engineering graduates by adding 163 new graduates to each of their programs by 2023. For K-State, we will add these new engineering graduates to our current five-year average base of 423 to net graduating classes of 586 students by 2023.
Through increases in the number of scholarship offerings and improvements in retention programs, we will meet these target numbers. This growth in engineering graduates from K-State will be accomplished by improving management of the student pipeline through enhanced recruitment and retention. More students will be brought into engineering by increasing the number of scholarships offered and by expanding student recruitment efforts at Kansas high schools and in surrounding states. The number of scholarships offered by K-State will essentially need to double in order to remain cost competitive with other universities in the region. Many adjacent states are currently using scholarship dollars to entice Kansas high school graduates to enroll in their academic programs. To improve retention, K-State's outstanding and nationally acclaimed student-support, tutoring and mentoring programs for freshman and upper-level students will be expanded.
The K-State College of Engineering will manage this student expansion, based upon the projection of new jobs, by partnering with the Departments of Commerce and Labor in Kansas, as well as integrating knowledge gained from semi-annual meetings of the advisory councils who provide input to each of the engineering academic departments. The dynamic challenge to meet the projected engineering needs within the state of Kansas, while maintaining the national and international stature of the college, is multidimensional in nature and requires expert input from academic, state and industry leaders. Essentially, the natural and organic growth of our student body can be impacted by appropriating scholarship and faculty/staff resources into areas with the greatest projected needs.
Increasing the number of engineering graduates will make it necessary to also increase the number of professors supporting the K-State programs. The UEIA initiative and the associated match will provide the resources to grow our faculty base (in engineering as well as support colleges such as arts and sciences) and enhance the size of the associated support staff. Growth of the faculty body will enable us to offer more classes, which will enable greater matriculation by adding more capacity and flexibility for the student body.
The College of Engineering is at capacity in view of facilities, and if approximately 750 new students are added to our student body and many new professors are added to the faculty roster, classroom, laboratory and office facilities at K-State must be expanded. Expansion plans expressed as Phase IV of the Durland/Rathbone/Fiedler complex are planned to add an additional 80,000 ft2 to the current facilities. This will add classroom facilities more conducive to learning, space for active participation in engineering-based extracurricular activities and new laboratories for undergraduate research experiences as well as faculty research and technology development.
Investments made under UEIA will help K-State achieve its 2025 goal to be recognized as a top-50 public research institute. Many objectives of the UEIA dovetail with K-State 2025 objectives including improving student retention, increasing undergraduate student research opportunities and increasing size of the faculty. Greater opportunities for student education, training and internships will be created as the engineering programs grow.
The impact of this initiative will serve generations of Kansans to come. It has already spurred a thought revolution across the country. The state has drawn positive national attention for this progressive action and should be commended for supporting a primary economic driver of Kansas' exports and innovations-its colleges and schools of engineering.
For more information about the Kansas State University College of Engineering visit www.engg.ksu.edu.