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TABLE 2-1 A Snapshot of Metrics and Trends in U.S. Engineering




Total U.S. workforce (2003)

138 million

37% increase since 1983

Total science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) workforce (2003)

7.5 million

70% increase since 1983

Total engineering workforce (2003)

2 million

25% increase since 1983; about 1.4 % of the total workforce, compared with roughly 1.6 % in 1983

Proportion of engineering workforce (2003) that is





Up from 6% in 1983

African American









Proportion of the engineering workforce that is foreign-born (2002)


Increase of 2% from 1994.

Average annual salary for engineers (2005)


Represents 1.8 times the average salary of the entire U.S. workforce

Engineering degrees awarded in the United States (2004)





Down from 72,670 in 1983; the bachelor’s number has tended to fluctuate



Up from 18,886 in 1983, reflecting a fairly steady increase



Up from 2,781 in 1983, this figure has also increased steadily

Projected increase in the engineering workforce between 2004 and 2014


Note that this is a projection, not a certainty. The 13% projected increase in engineering is roughly the same as that projected for the overall U.S. workforce

Note: This presentation is meant to provide a broad overview and therefore does not delve into the subtleties involved in measuring the engineering workforce. Abt Associates (2004) provides a good discussion of the various issues and uncertainties. Perhaps most important, these figures for the engineering workforce DO NOT include “mathematical and computer science professions,” which means that the population of interest to this study is somewhat larger than is reflected in the chart.

Source: Adapted from Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, 2004–2007. Drawn from various tables and charts.

(e.g., business and finance); negative stereotypes of engineers; and, possibly, the perception that offshoring and other aspects of globalization portend a decline in engineering in the United States. All of these factors combined could raise significant barriers to students choosing to major in engineering.

Unfortunately, data to counter these perceptions are difficult to come by. Data on salaries, for instance, are ambiguous. On the one hand, starting salaries for new engineers with bachelor’s degrees are significantly higher than starting salaries in many other fields (NAE, 2007). On the other hand, salaries for Ph.D. holders in engineering are lower than, and have not grown as quickly as, salaries of other professionals, such as doctors and lawyers (Freeman, 2005a). Thus students might be justified in believing that the extra work and effort required to earn an advanced degree in engineering might not be as well rewarded financially as advanced degrees in other fields.

A related concern is the increasing reliance of the U.S. engineering enterprise on students from abroad, particularly at the graduate level. Much more than half of engineering doctorates and roughly 40 percent of engineering master’s degrees from U.S. institutions are awarded to foreign nationals (Heckel, 2006). Traditionally, many of these graduates have remained in the United States to build their careers and have contributed substantially to U.S.-based innovation (COSEPUP, 2005).

With the number of U.S. citizens entering engineering programs perhaps in decline (perhaps a cyclical decline, but perhaps a longer term trend), a drop in the number of foreign students entering these programs, or a decrease in the number of foreign engineers who stay in the United States after earning degrees, could affect the future overall size and capability of the U.S. engineering workforce. In 2003, 26 percent of engineering degree holders in the United States were foreign-born (22 percent of bachelor’s degree holders, 38 percent of master’s degree holders, and 51 percent of doctoral degree holders).

Despite the stringent U.S. immigration policies since the 9/11 attacks, current data on foreign enrollments and “stay rates” indicate that the United States is still attracting foreign students who pursue degrees in engineering and launch

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