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4 Achieving Chonge STRUCTURAL ASPECTS BIND ISSUES In any social system (of which engineering education is one), organizational structure determines to a considerable extent the nature of both the processes (functions and actions) that can take place within the system and the products that result. Thus, structural features also have a large impact on the ability of the system to adapt to external and internal forces. System Structure it is worth examining the structure of the U.S. engineering educa- tion system briefly to ascertain its salient features and their implica- tions for strategies to change the system so as to achieve the vision described in Chapter 2. The nation's engineering education system includes not just higher education but also K-12, community colleges, and continuous (life- long) engineering education. These elements are embedded in the larger U.S. society, whose political and economic influences typically affect engineering schools through the academic institution of which they are a part. Those socioeconomic and political factors also drive demand for engineers, as well as the supply, recruitment, and retention of engineering students. In 1994, the system included 311 institutions that granted B.S. engineering degrees or higher in accredited programs. It incorporated not just the 150 or so "research universities" and "doctorate-granting" institutions but also the roughly 160 other institutions that focus 40

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ACHIEVING CHANGE 4 primarily on undergraduate education and produce nearly a thirc! of the . . nahon's engineers. Across these many institutions, there is great diversity in terms of size, age, traditions, research interests, ciepartmental structure, strengths and weaknesses, and other characteristics. Some are urban; others are in rural locales. Some are small colleges within a comprehensive university; others are specialized technological institutions. Some are focused primarily on a specific engineering field (such as mining or chemicals, for example); and others are broadly balanced across fields. The BEEd recognizes that the issue of scale is worthy of consider- ation here. How many schools and departments of engineering does the nation need to support? is 311 accredited institutions the right number? is it too many? Too few? in either case, how can the number be recluced or increased through external influence? Such questions are difficult, if not impossible, to answer. Yet they are questions of concern to academic administrators and to those in government (both federal and state) who have to fine! the funds to support engineering education. Realistically, in the U.S. system these determinations are made, however inefficiently, by the free market of supply and demand. Those market forces have produced the great diversity of engineering schools seen today, and no pronouncement by any external body- however authoritative is likely to affect matters significantly. The diversity of the nation's engineering education institutions is at once a great strength and a potential impediment to reform. Different characteristics imply differing needs and differing capabilities to change. One characteristic that most academic institutions share, however, is clecentralized influence and authority at the level of the university, the department, and the individual. Academic freedom (and especially tenure) means, in effect, that each of these levels is relatively autonomous and thus is able to resist change. Consequently, it is difficult to impose major change within this system from the top down. A strong force in favor of stability is exerted by the Accredita- tion Board for Engineering and Technology and the various regional accrediting bodies, which must review and in some cases approve changes in curriculum, degree requirements, etc. Another characteristic of academic institutions is that they are vertically Signed organizationally. Vertical alignment means that a 1 The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology is composed of 27 pro- fessional engineering societies; its accrediting business is carried out largely by vol- unteers from academe, industry, and government. The board establishes a "floor" of requirements for all engineering schools that wish to have their graduates considered as engineers and, consequently, want its endorsement. Above the floor are unlimited opportunities for schools to increase their quality and to exercise their unique mis- s~ons.

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42 ENGINEERING EDUCATION: DESIGNING AN ADAPTIVE SYSTEM school is separated organizationally and administratively from the rest of the university. It follows that collaboration between a school of engineering and a college of liberal arts, education, or business, for example, usually is difficult. An important feature of the academic organizational structure is the role that the university as a whole plays in the creation of incentives in the engineering school. Although promotion and tenure recommendations are made at the department and college level, overall policy guidance is generated at the university level, and the final decisions on such matters are made by committees representing all academic units. Finally, a major influence on the structure of universities is the fact that their fun(ling is external. For public institutions, the state govern- ment (letermines some aspects of long-range policy through its support, and for all research universities, whether public or private, federal research funding has a powerful influence on the organiza- tional structure ant! research/educational emphases of the institution. These structural features tend to ensure that the overall system resists change. The walls between organizational units and the lack of autonomous ability to change direction, above the level of the individual, institutionalize a structural rigidity and conservatism. Bmpilcotlons for Chenge Strotegles The most obvious implication of the structural rigidity inherent in the engineering education system is that chance must be effected at ,. `~' .,, ~,. . . , - - - - - - cop - the ..local', level- that IS, at the level of the school, (lepartment, or individual. For a variety of reasons (see Massy et al., 1994), it is already difficult to achieve consensus on neecled changes even at the departmental level. The more elements of the system that must be engaged, the more difficult the change will be to effect. Certainly a significant factor affecting the potential for change, however, is the imposing workload that engineering faculty face daily. Although inclivicluals may be, in principle, more amenable to change than other levels of the system, it is generally difficult for them to respond to additional deman(ls on their time~emands that any form of change usually imposes. Thus, it is impossible to be prescriptive about actions that should be taken. Both in substance anti in process, any modifications must be adapter! to local values and circumstances ant] must recognize the pressure they place on already stressed inclividuals and organiza- tions. The diversity of institutions makes it likely that a "free market" approach to change will be more effective than any central mandate. Such changes will require the cooperation of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology and the regional accrediting organi

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ACHIEVING CHANGE 43 cations; their close involvement in this process on a national level is essential. Another implication of the structural characteristics of the system is that collaboration across organizational and disciplinary barriers must be emphasized. The effort required to break down barriers may be large, but it can be anticipated that the benefits might also be unexpect- edly large. The most powerful change agent for many of the 3 ~ ~ engineering institutions, however, may be federal agency funding policy. Federal funding is what created the present research-oriented structure of academic engineering in the first place, and it can bring about change faster than any other influence-especially among the research uni- versities. Indeed, this process of"cultural change" is already well under way through programs such as NSF's Engineering Research Centers, Engineering Education Coalitions, and alliances for minority participation and the manufacturing education and training awards of the multi-agency Technology Reinvestment Project. STRATEGY FOR CH8NGE The task of the BEEd has been to: . understand the external forces impinging on engineering educa tion and driving the need for change (Chanter 21: ~ ~ ~ , , formulate a vision of the tuture of engineering education (Chap ter 2); assess the current state of engineering education and identify the challenges it faces in realizing that vision (Chapter 31; understand how the structure of the engineering education sys- tem affects the possibilities for achieving needed change (Chap- ter 41; and develop the outlines of a plan to achieve needed changes. . That plan follows in Chapter 5. The BEEd wishes to emphasize, however, that this study represents a preliminary effort, the results of which are necessarily generalized and qualitative. The board has provided an overview a top-level analysis. It remains for the engi- neering education community at large to perform the follow-on work in the context of their local circumstances and to make the detailed changes needed to achieve the vision in terms that make sense within their particular institutional setting. Thus, in Chapter 5 the BEEd issues a call to action for all those who have a stake in the performance of the engineering education system and the quality of its products.