Former University President James Duderstadt recently published a report calling for American colleges to model an education in engineering after professional disciplines like medicine and law, which require a graduate degree.
Duderstadt suggests in the report that students be required to attain a graduate degree in engineering before entering the field.
The report, titled “The Millennium Project,” says recent trends like the outsourcing of American engineering jobs, rapid technological advancements and decreasing enrollment in engineering programs are key indicators that an academic overhaul is long overdue.
Duderstadt said in an interview that in an increasingly global economy, American engineers won’t be able to compete with engineers from other countries unless their skill sets are bolstered. Duderstadt said the current system cannot provide that extra edge.
“We just do not believe that can be achieved just by an undergraduate degree in education,” Duderstadt said.
Some students, like Engineering sophomore Henry Kohring, said they worry that graduate school for engineers could discourage an already small pool of students from choosing engineering as a career.
“It just really would definitely make it more difficult to get an engineering degree, or at least make it seem more difficult,” Kohring said. “That would definitely decrease the number of undergraduates.”
Others disagree. Engineering freshman John Sidhom, who plans to attend medical school, said engineering could become more attractive if a graduate degree were required because many would come to consider it more prestigious. Sidhom said he chose medicince over engineering partly because it provides a more secure future.
“Engineering is not respected enough,” said Sidhom, who said he’s concerned with the outsourcing of engineering jobs.
Ideally, Duderstadt said, engineers would gain a broad liberal arts education as undergraduates before continuing to an engineering school. He said the extra education would give them the abilities necessary to succeed in an international economy.
“Those areas and disciplines may give them a perspective on how to interact with different people, different cultures and so forth,” he said.
Engineering junior Adam Hashimoto said he’d like the opportunity to study other interests in college besides engineering.
“I’m also interested in music,” Hashimoto said. “I think it’d be cool to be able to have more interdisciplinary stuff.”
While the University’s Engineering school offers programs in conjunction with the Ross School of Business, Duderstadt said entrepreneurial skills are still lacking in most engineering curriculums today.
Certain engineering disciplines, like civil engineering or architecture, already require a professional degree and advanced education for licensing. Duderstadt said that while he thinks these changes are a step in the right direction, even professional programs should be reworked because they don’t place enough emphasis on practical experience.
“One of the more controversial parts of the recommendations is we believe that those professionally-oriented programs really should be staffed by faculty with strong experience and professional practice, in the same way that you would not become a surgeon simply by sitting into a course taught by someone who knew molecular biology,” he said.
Duderstadt’s report has its critics. David Munson, the dean of the College of Engineering, said some areas of engineering shouldn’t require a graduate degree.
“There’s quite a lot of need with engineers with just four-year degrees,” Munson said.
Munson said programs like the Engineering school’s partnership with the Ross School of Business already give real-world experience as undergrads.
“I think some of the things that he’d like to see, we’re already doing,” Munson said.