The emergence and expansion of engineering technology (ET) degree programs is a convergence of several key aspects of the United States’ technological development. These include (1) the nation’s desire to remain the preeminent leader in technology and innovation; (2) a series of engineering education reports; (3) the development of technical institutes; (4) the expansion of the junior and community college programs in technical education; and (5) the consistent movement of US engineering education toward curricula containing more emphasis on science knowledge/theory and advanced mathematics. The convergence of the first three factors provided impetus for the creation of the 2-year ET programs and what amounted to a three-tiered structure in the engineering workforce. The convergence of the last two factors contributed to the creation of 4-year ET education programs.
According to Henninger (1959), the engineering workforce can be thought of as comprising three distinct but related components: engineers, engineering technologists, and laborer-technicians. Access to each tier is granted based on things such as degree completion, licensing, accreditation standards, and discipline choice. The idea of a three-tiered structure emerged
1 This chapter is based on research done by Ron Dempsey, School of History, Technology, and Society, Ivan Allen College, Georgia Institute of Technology, as part of a dissertation proposal. Used with permission.
from the formation of the US technical institutions. Noted Henninger (1959:27-28):
[T]o produce efficiently an adequate supply of qualified manpower for the three-part engineering-scientific team, we shall require a three part educational program: 1) The university-collegiate program for engineers and scientists, 2) The technical institute program for the engineering and scientific technicians, and 3) The vocational-trade programs for the craftsmen and apprenticeship.
In their Report of the Investigation of Engineering Education: 1923-1929, W.E. Wickenden and H.P. Hammond (1930) included a supplemental report on technical institutes, in which they recommended a split between the professional engineer and the practical engineering technician. Technical institutes were postsecondary institutions with courses of study lasting between 1 and 3 years whose focus was the application of scientific principles more than development of manual skills (Smith and Lipsett, 1956).
Two precursors to the technical institute were industrial technology programs and the mechanics institutes. The industrial technology programs provided postsecondary education and training. Most focused on business management, production operations, and labor relations (Barnhart, 1963), while a few emphasized technological knowledge and expertise. Existing in parallel with the industrial technology program were the mechanic institutes (Defore, 1966). These institutes were geared toward “the maturing technology of the time, laying emphasis upon application with intensive instruction during short periods of less than four years” (Graney, 1965:9). Prominent engineering schools such as Rochester Institute of Technology, Milwaukee School of Engineering, and the Wentworth Institute of Technology began as mechanic institutes (Smith and Lipsett, 1956).
A key component of technical institutes was the provision of education and training for the “area between the skilled crafts and the highly scientific professions” (Smith and Lipsett, 1956:4). Wickenden and Hammond (1930) suggested that these technical institutes should become the locus for a more practical form of engineering education. Hammond repeated the recommendation in the 1940 Hammond Report on engineering education and in the 1944 report Engineering Education after the War. For Hammond, the two world wars had highlighted the need for scientific knowledge creation, technological innovation and development, and increased engineering expertise in order to maintain global leadership and military dominance. “It is a matter of vital concern to the nation in relation both to security and
economic welfare that the highest levels of scientific and engineering excellence be maintained at all times” (1944:592).
The Hammond Report argued that technological education must be offered on a broader, not a narrower, basis and that scientific and engineering knowledge must be diffused “among the industrial classes rather than . . . canalize[d] . . . in strictly professional channels. In view of their broad function and their complex relationships, we consider it neither feasible nor socially desirable for the present group of engineering colleges to limit their aim to the preparation of young men for professional registration and practice” (Hammond, 1940:560).
This more practical form of training encouraged development of an “industrial group” track of technical education that “gives major attention to matters relating to production and operations” (Hammond, 1944:592). The 1944 report noted the lack of a systemic technological education at the “intermediate and sub-professional” level (605). One reason for the underdevelopment of this form of technological education was the lack of recognition afforded to these degree programs and their graduates from “industry, the engineering profession, and the public at large” (605, 607).
These reports, along with the motivation provided by World War II, led to the establishment of ET programs within the technical institutes. Their emphasis on scientific principles versus manual skills helped distinguish the technical institutes from junior colleges and vocational training institutions. By 1945 the first 2-year ET programs were accredited by the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development (ECPD, 1954; Smith and Lipsett, 1956), predecessor to the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). The Council also established a separate accreditation board for ET programs (Smith and Lipsett, 1956). Later, as junior colleges and vocational training institutions began offering technical degrees, confusion arose about the differences between these programs and those offered by the technical institutes, and, as discussed below, this would contribute to the establishment of 4-year ET programs.
Critically, the technical institutes provided education and training for the “area between the skilled crafts and the highly scientific professions” (Smith and Lipsett, 1956:4). Such stratified thinking contributed to the idea of a three-tiered structure in engineering. “The basic objective of the technical institute idea in higher education is the development of qualified engineering technicians proficient in a selected field of technology” (Henninger, 1959:16). The ET programs housed in the technical institutes were not intended as a feeder into university/college engineering programs but were
to stand on their own as an independent degree program. The clear expectation for this degree program was to have its graduates become a vital part of the engineering-scientific team (1959:20-21). Henninger clearly placed the engineering technician in this structure of engineering:
The first fact is that some adequate and integrated provision must be made to continue the supply [of] the technically competent manpower required for this engineering application and operation, and required also to augment and to supplement the professional engineer and the scientists in research, design, development, and supervision. This manpower is part of the over-all engineering manpower spectrum. In general effect, it is taking the place of the engineer as we have known him, as the engineer of today and of tomorrow increasingly takes his place and becomes more and more devoted to the scientific problems and opportunities of the expanding technological universe. This manpower area is the professional area of the “engineering technician” (1959:20).
The Technical Institute Division of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) provided oversight for the emerging ET programs from 1946 to 1962. Just as ET evolved, so did the nomenclature of this oversight group. It was renamed the Technical Institute Administrative Council in 1965, the Technical College Council in 1971, the Engineering Technology College Council in 1981, and, finally, in 1987, the Engineering Technology Council (O’Hair, 1995).
Between 1945 and 1955, ET was introduced as a new academic program at existing technical institutes located at institutions such as Purdue University and the University of Houston. During this period, the number of technical institutes increased from 44 to 69 (Smith and Lipsett, 1956) in order to house the growing number of new engineering technology programs. The technical institutes and ET programs followed a series of boom and bust enrollment cycles (Harris and Grede, 1977). For example, from 1946 to 1954 the engineering technology programs surged in enrollment with the influx of war veterans and passage of the GI Bill. But from 1954 to 1957, enrollment stabilized or decreased due to the movement toward humanities and the arts by entering college students (Carr, 1979). Two-year ET programs now produce about 37,000 graduates annually (see Table 3-1).
The launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik in 1957 played a key role in the next phase of development of ET education, the move to 4-year baccalaureate degree programs. Sputnik caused many to believe traditional engineering programs needed to be refocused in order for the United States to compete in the space race. This shift was achieved “at the expense of design and application-based laboratory courses,” according to Holloway (1991:94). As a debate
over the engineering curriculum grew, S.C. Hollister, president of ASEE, commissioned a review of engineering education, which would become known as the Grinter Report. A primary recommendation of the Grinter Report was for engineering programs to increase the mathematics, physics, and engineering sciences content of the curriculum (Grinter, 1955). A draft of the report also recommended that engineering be bifurcated (Seely, 1995). One form would focus more on the scientific and theoretical aspects of engineering and educate engineers working in research and design for the government. The other would focus on the more general, practical, and technical aspects of engineering and educate engineers for industry. However, the committee reviewing the report, led by Hollister, did not approve this recommendation, and it was removed from the final report.
In an ASEE oral-history project on ET education, Winston Purvine, founder of the Oregon Institute of Technology, recounted a post-Sputnik talk by the dean of the College of Engineering at Michigan State in which the dean noted his institution “has literally plowed under acres” of laboratory space as the school reworked its engineering curriculum (O’Hair, 1995:263). The curricular shift by engineering programs and the decision not to create two branches in the field created room for expansion of ET into the arena of 4-year baccalaureate degree programs. Noted Ungrodt:
Some of the changes in engineering technology education have resulted from the changes in engineering education. The development of science oriented engineering curricula and the trend toward advanced level programs in engineering, as well as the rapid growth and development of associate degree programs in engineering technology, have stimulated the development of baccalaureate programs in engineering technology (1975:787).
Dean Michael Mazzola of the Franklin Institute in Boston put it more bluntly: “[T]he technical institute group, engineering technology, jumped into the gap. And this is why the four-year program was started, because engineering colleges were not doing engineering; they were putting too much emphasis on science” (O’Hair, 1995:216).
The other factor contributing to the birth of 4-year ET programs was the increasing number of junior and community colleges offering associate’s degrees in “engineering technology.” At the 1958 mid-year meeting of ASEE’s Technical Institute Division, Curriculum Development Chair H.H. Kerr voiced concern over the “inroads” that the vocational education system was making into technical education. Kerr noted that this set of institutions was much larger and more politically connected than the technical institutes and
could pose a significant threat to engineering technology. It was during these discussions that the term “technologist” was coined to described graduates of 4-year ET programs (O’Hair, 1995:118).
Historically, the technical institute programs had been confused with the vocational technical school programs, because of their similar 2-year duration. The addition of ET programs at the vocational schools and junior colleges only added to the confusion. Therefore, the “expansion of the long standing engineering technology programs from two to four years is at least one way of maintaining the differential in level and standard which has existed between the technology programs and the vocational programs” (Foecke, 1964:12).
ABET-accredited bachelor’s degree programs in ET soared from 2 in 1967 to 155 a decade later (ECPD, 1978). Some of the first institutions to establish 4-year baccalaureate degrees in engineering technology included Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Purdue University, Southern College of Technology (the technical institute of Georgia Tech), and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Enrollment growth in these programs followed. By the late 1980s, there were about 20,000 annual graduates of these 4-year programs. The number of graduates has fluctuated over the intervening years between about 15,000 and 18,000 per year. Much more information about the production of ET degrees, at both the 2- and 4-year levels, is provided in Chapter 3.
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