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Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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Executive Summary

Engineering skills and knowledge are foundational to technological innovation and development that drive long-term economic growth and help solve societal challenges. Therefore, to ensure national competitiveness and quality of life it is important to understand and to continuously adapt and improve the educational and career pathways of engineers in the United States. To gather this understanding it is necessary to study the people with the engineering skills and knowledge as well as the evolving system of institutions, policies, markets, people, and other resources that together prepare, deploy, and replenish the nation’s engineering workforce.

This study found significant good news regarding the engineering profession. The data show that engineers are rewarded for their work with relatively higher salaries than other college graduates and job satisfaction on par with employees in all US sectors. For this to be sustained and strengthened, a robust and resilient engineering education system, profession, and workforce must be nurtured. Factors such as increasing globalization and changing US demographics should be taken into consideration. This report addresses a few key questions: How well is the US engineering education-workforce system preparing and using engineers? What adaptations are needed to ensure that this system can respond effectively and expediently to current and future needs?

This executive summary presents the committee’s major findings and recommends specific actions by stakeholders to strengthen and ensure the vitality of investments in US engineers from education at universities to training for engineers in the workforce.

ENGINEERS USE DIVERSE SKILLS IN A VARIETY OF OCCUPATIONS AND INDUSTRIES

Engineering is a dynamic discipline and practice that integrates and applies knowledge from various fields and draws on a broad and expanding portfolio of technical as well as professional skills, such as creativity and design, oral and written communication, teamwork and leadership, interdisciplinary thinking, business acumen and entrepreneurship, and multicultural understanding. Trained engineers use their knowledge and skills in a variety of occupations and industries and across all sectors of society.

This report defines the nation’s engineering labor force as comprising three overlapping segments: (1) those who work in engineering occupations narrowly defined1 (1.72 million in 2015) regardless of educational back-

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1 Engineering occupations in the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) System used by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Bureau of Labor Statistics are defined by job duties applied to particular areas of technology. The NSF identifies 18 job categories as engineering occupations for use in its National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG), but there is considerable ambiguity regarding the categorization

Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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ground, (2) those with engineering degrees2 in the overall labor force (3.7 million in 2013), and (3) those with engineering degrees who apply the skills and knowledge associated with their degree on the job (3.2 million in 2013).

The occupational definition of an engineer captures some engineering degree holders as well as workers without an engineering degree who perform certain job duties that define an engineering occupation, while excluding holders of engineering degrees working in “engineering-proximate” occupations, which the committee defines as those that draw heavily on the specialized technical and professional knowledge and skills of engineering graduates (e.g., computing occupations, engineering management3), as well as “non-engineering” occupations, those that draw on professional and more generic technical skills of engineering graduates.

Defining an engineer in terms of degree earned implies that an engineer remains an engineer throughout his or her career, regardless of occupation or whether specific technical or professional knowledge and skills associated with the degree are used on the job.

The third definition, a subset of the second, encompasses those who have a degree in engineering and apply the technical and professional knowledge and skills acquired with that degree in their work, as evidenced either by the tasks they perform or by whether they say they use science, engineering, or mathematical knowledge from the degree on the job.

The committee believes that these three definitions yield complementary insights into the educational and career pathways of engineers as well as the market (i.e., supply and demand) for engineering knowledge and skills. Although engineering and computing are closely related, both the discipline of computer science and computing occupations are defined as distinct from engineering by the statistical agencies that track graduation rates and employment (e.g., degrees in computer engineering – hardware are categorized by NSF as engineering, whereas degrees in computer engineering – software are categorized as computing) and the report follows this categorization in the analyses. Although the committee examined some aspects of career flexibility and pathways for those with computer science degrees and found pathways similar to those with engineering degrees, a full review of the pathway to a computing degree and then onward into the workforce is beyond the scope of the project. About 19 percent of those who work in engineering occupations hold degrees in other STEM4 fields or in business. Nearly two thirds of employed engineering BS5 degree holders work in for-profit companies (mostly large and very large firms), 14 percent work in the government sector, roughly 12 percent are self-employed, and the rest are divided between education and the nonprofit sector.

While almost 90 percent of degreed engineers use their engineering skills for their jobs, many do not work directly in engineering over their careers. The percentage of engineering bachelor’s degree holders employed in the United States in engineering occupations narrowly defined is about 36 percent,6 and another 46 percent are in occupations closely associated with engineering that draw heavily on their technical and professional engineering knowledge and skills (engineering-proximate occupations):

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of some technically demanding occupations that employ significant numbers of degreed engineers. Similarly, those involved in the direct supervision of engineers engaged in technical engineering work, i.e., “engineering managers,” are classified as working in S&E management occupations. In addition, the line between engineering occupations and what NSF deems to be “engineering-related” occupations (e.g., engineering technologists and technicians, listed in appendix A) is not clear. Because of these ambiguities, this report refers to engineering occupations (those defined by the SOC), “engineering-proximate” occupations (those that draw heavily on the specialized technical and professional knowledge and skills of engineering graduates), and non-engineering occupations (those that draw on professional and more generic technical skills of engineering graduates). The data analysis for this study focused primarily on engineering graduates and occupations as defined by NSF.

2 In part due to the classification system used by federal datasets, the committee decided to define “engineering degrees” to include only degrees earned from traditional engineering programs and to exclude 4-year degrees in engineering technology, despite the similarities between the programs. Engineering technology degree holders are discussed in chapter 1 in box 1.1.

3 “Engineering-proximate” jobs are different from the NSF category of “engineering-related” jobs, which are specifically defined as electrical, electronic, industrial, mechanical, or other technicians or technologists; drafting; surveying and mapping technicians; surveyors, or architects (see appendix A).

4 STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

5 In some contexts the committee chose to examine master’s degree holders, in part because combined with BS degree holders they account for 99 percent of degreed engineers and in part because NSCG data include “highest degree” on some questions, so separating BS and MS holders for some data is not possible.

6 This category includes those educated in the United States and overseas.

Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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  • management occupations associated with engineering (21 percent),
  • computing (15 percent),
  • science and engineering-related (e.g., engineering technicians, engineering technologists, architects) (6 percent), or
  • other science and engineering (S&E)7 (4 percent).

The remaining 18 percent of people with engineering bachelor’s degrees work in non-S&E, nonmanagement occupations (15 percent) and management positions not related to S&E (3 percent).

Finding: The vast majority of those formally trained in engineering work in occupations that draw heavily on their technical and professional engineering knowledge and skills. Their professional and problem-solving skills are also used in occupations with little connection to the more technical aspects of engineering. Engineers work in many different industries and across all sectors of society.

Engineers perform a variety of work tasks regardless of their occupation. BS engineering graduates also on average have the highest annual compensation and lifelong earnings of all bachelor’s degree holders, the highest mean wages even when working in engineering-proximate or non-engineering occupations, and the lowest unemployment rates of college degree holders. This is due, at least in part, to their versatility and occupational mobility, particularly their promotion into management occupations.

Finding: Engineers typically perform a variety of tasks in their jobs—management of people or projects; development and design; and computer programming, production, and quality management. Management is a major component of engineering work, as are computing and the design of equipment, processes, structures, and/or physical or computational models.

Finding: Engineering graduates working in engineering, engineering-proximate, and non-engineering-related occupations typically have higher career earnings than their peers with bachelor’s degrees in other fields, the lowest rate of unemployment (less than 3 percent) of all bachelor’s degree holders, and considerable career flexibility.

Finding: Engineering graduates working in engineering, engineering-proximate, and non-engineering-related occupations typically have high levels of career and work satisfaction.

ENGINEERING HAS A PERSISTENT DIVERSITY CHALLENGE

White and Asian males constitute the vast majority of employed degreed engineers and those who work in engineering occupations. Although women represent over half of the nation’s college-educated workforce, in 2013 they accounted for only 15 percent of both those working in engineering occupations and those with BS engineering degrees in the workforce. African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Hispanics of any race8 together made up 15 percent of the college-educated workforce in 2013, but 11 percent of those employed in engineering occupations and about 12 percent of employed engineering BS degree9 holders.

Some disciplines include higher percentages of women and minority engineers than others, although none of the disciplines have achieved either gender or racial/ethnic parity. However, some occupations (e.g., biological/biomedical and environmental) have increased gender diversity in recent years and will continue to do so as more diverse cohorts of engineers graduate and enter the workforce.

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7 “Other Science and Engineering” excludes engineers, computer scientists, engineering-related, and management occupations.

8 These groups are considered underrepresented minorities (URM) in STEM.

9 Engineering technology degree holders show greater racial diversity but less gender diversity than engineering degree holders. See box 1.1 for details.

Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
×

The lack of diversity in engineering presents challenges to the nation in two important ways. First, there are innovation and creativity costs associated with not using the skills and talents of major parts of the US population—problems or opportunities not identified, products not built, designs not considered, constraints not understood, and processes not invented when the diversity of life experiences engaged in engineering is limited.10

Second, given the important roles of engineers in identifying, defining, and solving problems that face society, and the many material, professional, social, and psychological rewards to those who learn and apply the knowledge and skills of engineering, it is a serious matter of social justice and equity that Americans from all backgrounds be encouraged and supported in the study and practice of engineering.

Decisions to choose and persist in a career or to change careers, jobs, or organizations are made from adolescence to middle age and are influenced by a number of factors. These factors may be internal to the individual, such as interests or skills, or external, such as influences by families, the economy, or even certain policies. Programs or activities that increase exposure to, understanding of, or experiences in engineering also play a role in these decisions.

Finding: Although some disciplines have greater diversity than others, overall the US engineering workforce remains characterized by limited gender, ethnic, and racial diversity. White and Asian males dominate the makeup of this workforce, while women, African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Hispanics of any race remain significantly underrepresented.

Finding: Efforts to increase the representation of women and other underrepresented groups in engineering have improved diversity in some disciplines but overall have proven to be less effective than desired.

Finding: There are at least two compelling reasons why the nation should be concerned about engineering’s diversity challenge: the creativity and innovation costs of unused skills and talent, and equity/social justice.

Finding: Many interrelated internal and external (personal and societal or cultural) factors influence the decision making of students and graduates in ways that contribute to engineering’s diversity challenge.

Prior to matriculation in college, limited access to quality STEM education and mentoring at the K–12 level undercuts the preparation and persistence of many underrepresented minority (URM) students who express interest in engineering at the beginning of their undergraduate studies. In addition, the misperception of engineering as an exclusively technical field of study and work, disconnected from service to the needs of people and society, discourages a disproportionate share of college-bound young women from even considering many engineering disciplines (environmental and biomedical are two exceptions) as a possible course of study.

Many interested and qualified women and URM students who matriculate in engineering are deterred from completing an engineering degree, or choosing or remaining in an engineering occupation, by a number of factors. Some are discouraged by an unwelcoming or nonsupportive climate in engineering classrooms and workplaces. Women in the workforce report dissatisfaction with pay or promotion opportunities, lack of flexibility in work hours and location that constrains choices of work-life balance, feelings of isolation, inability to find mentors or support networks, and an unwelcoming male-dominated culture. The median annual earnings of women and URM engineers are significantly lower than those of their male and White or Asian counterparts. Women’s rate of leaving engineering occupations for pay and promotion reasons is higher (relative to men) than in all other fields.

Finding: The low numbers of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering education and the engineering workforce dictate that the pathways and motivations of every group be considered fully and that the entire engineering community—educators, employers, research funders, policymakers, and engineering professionals—work collaboratively to improve diversity.

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10 The committee is indebted to Wm. A. Wulf for this concise and effective articulation of these costs, presented in his remarks as NAE president at the 1998 NAE annual meeting. Published in The Bridge 28(4):8–13.

Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
×

Finding: Because people with diverse gender and racial/ethnic identities may have different motivations and pathways in engineering it is imperative to consider which educational and programmatic interventions are most effective in welcoming, supporting, and advancing those from underrepresented backgrounds. It is essential to continue developing, implementing, and evaluating well-designed educational and training interventions to both attract and retain women and underrepresented minorities and support all individuals in engineering. It is equally important to change the perceived and real culture(s) of engineering so that it welcomes all individuals regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or background. Recognition of bias, support for work-life balance, and equal opportunity for training and advancement will help create a supportive environment for all employees.

Recommendation 1: Engineering deans, department chairs, and faculty, K–12 teachers and administrators, and engineering professionals in industry and government who work with educators at any level should strive to foster an inclusive, welcoming climate/culture for all students interested in engineering and STEM more broadly, including concerted efforts to recognize and address implicit and explicit bias in their employees and to build more welcoming and inclusive engineering cultures.

Recommendation 2: Organizations that employ engineers should examine their promotion practices and pay to ensure that they are equitable across gender, race, ethnicity, and other demographics. In addition, to promote job satisfaction, company commitment, and retention, companies should recognize and address implicit and explicit bias in their employees and work to build more welcoming and inclusive engineering cultures.

Recommendation 3: Researchers, educators, employers, public and private funders, and policymakers should consider the interplay of multiple internal and external influences over time on an individual’s educational and career decisions when developing interventions to increase the representation of all populations in engineering. Informed by this systems perspective, these and other stakeholders in the nation’s engineering education and workforce enterprise should work together to develop, test, and coordinate innovative, mutually reinforcing initiatives that produce a significant, positive, collective impact on engineering’s diversity challenge rather than pursuing individual, discrete, largely disconnected/isolated, and low-impact initiatives.

THE ENGINEERING COMMUNITY NEEDS TO BETTER COMMUNICATE TO DIVERSE POPULATIONS THE OPPORTUNITIES AFFORDED BY AN ENGINEERING DEGREE

Although engineering enrollments are increasing in US universities and engineers have very low rates of unemployment, the lack of diversity in engineering suggests that many students do not have adequate information about the requirements, rewards, goals, and social value of engineering before deciding whether to enter the field. This is especially true for students affected by systemic disparities in K–12 education, as evidenced in the quality of school facilities, resources, and access to precollege math or science classes required for the study of engineering. Even students who attend well-resourced schools may not consider or be prepared for an engineering major if they are unaware of the profession. It is essential that all precollege students and their families, especially those from populations that are underrepresented or marginalized in engineering, understand the value of engineering to society as well as its career-related benefits.

Finding: Lack of knowledge about the profession is a significant barrier for potential engineers from populations underrepresented in engineering. Messages that describe engineering as a field that involves understanding, defining, and solving important societal problems using a mix of technical and professional skills, interdisciplinary work, social consciousness, creativity, and multicultural understanding impart knowledge of the field to all students, and seem to be particularly important for female and URM students, who may not otherwise see engineering as a viable option for themselves.

The committee recommends that the engineering community—industry, academia, engineering societies, government, and other stakeholders—address potentially negative stereotypes of engineering and more effectively

Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
×

communicate the nature of engineering work and the opportunities of an engineering degree to women, underrepresented minorities, and other marginalized groups that remain greatly underrepresented in engineering. Such efforts can both increase diversity of perspective in engineering practice and with it the innovativeness and creativity of the nation’s technical workforce while also expanding opportunities for individuals from these populations. Specifically, the committee recommends the following actions:

Recommendation 4: Engineering faculty, professional societies, employers, and other engineering outreach organizations should provide K–12 students, their families, and K–12 educators and guidance counselors with current, accurate information about engineering, both to counter inaccurate stereotypes of the nature of engineering work and the people who do it and to prepare students to navigate their education and enter the workforce.

Recommendation 5: Engineering professional societies, employers, and other engineering outreach organizations should work with families, K–12 educators, and guidance counselors to cultivate all students’ interest in exploring an engineering major and career by communicating that engineering develops professional as well as technical skills and equips graduates to do interesting work in a wide range of occupations, to help define and solve important problems for people and society, and to make a positive difference in the world. In addition, K–12 educators and guidance counselors should help families of K–12 students understand the utility and rewards of an engineering degree, such as the versatility of the technical and professional skills learned, access to many different careers, and high initial and lifelong salaries.

Recommendation 6: All who are involved in K–12 teacher training and professional development—such as schools of education, engineering faculty, professional societies, and K–12 administrators—should encourage and support K–12 STEM educators’ efforts to use inclusive teaching practices that create safe and inclusive learning environments to support and actively engage students from different backgrounds.

ENGINEERING EDUCATION MUST CONTINUOUSLY ADAPT

The US engineering education enterprise has been largely successful in educating engineers capable of working in many occupations and capacities that have advanced the country’s innovative and economic strength and benefited all segments of society. In keeping with rapid advances in many fields of science and technology, the field of engineering has evolved in recent decades to incorporate computing and, to a lesser extent, the life, social, and behavioral sciences as well as the humanities into its core curriculum, augmenting the well-established foundations of math, physics, and chemistry. At the same time, there is growing demand from industry for engineering graduates to be equipped with nontechnical or professional attributes and abilities in addition to their technical aptitude. Moreover, engineers have recently begun to incorporate considerations such as sustainability, societal impact, and public policy in their work, and they need stronger communication skills to seek and incorporate the input of diverse stakeholders.

Given the range of skills they acquire in their studies and training, engineering graduates are well equipped to respond to changes in technology, economic conditions, or personal interests. But to ensure that US-based engineers have the technical and professional skills required to compete globally and meet the needs of the nation in the future, US engineering education must continuously adapt both to advances in science and technology fields—especially computing and data science, which provide tools that engineers in all disciplines must learn to use—and to the changing needs of industry, society, and workers themselves. In addition, the ability to learn throughout a career must be taught in undergraduate education and supported by industry.

Finding: The disciplinary foundations of engineering are expanding with the growing influence and incorporation of computing, the life sciences, the social and behavioral sciences, business management concepts and skills, and entrepreneurship. In particular, computing and data science knowledge and skills are increasingly fundamental to a range of engineering applications. Computer occupations employ over 15 percent of

Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
×

all engineering graduates and are projected to grow rapidly over the coming decade, and engineering schools need to recognize and support the interaction between engineering and computer science in all disciplines, whether with more required courses for all majors or the incorporation of computing skills in discipline-specific courses.

Finding: Beyond strong technical skills, more and more employers expect engineering graduates to have experience and competence in professional areas such as creativity and design, oral and written communication, teamwork and leadership, interdisciplinary thinking, business management and entrepreneurship, and multicultural understanding.

Finding: Advances in understanding of how people learn engineering, corresponding evidence-based innovations in pedagogy and technological tools for the education of engineers, and the digital fluency of incoming generations of students are all creating new needs and opportunities for engineering education to adapt. These curricular changes both improve graduates’ professional and lifelong learning skills and attract more women and underrepresented minorities to the field.

Finding: Given trends in global markets for engineering talent and the pace of change in technology, business practices, and other areas, engineers must be prepared to pursue lifelong learning, including through online programs, to keep current their technical and professional skills and knowledge.

To stay up to date with advances and rapid changes in science and technology, the evolving needs and expectations of engineers’ diverse work environments, and innovations in engineering education, engineering educators (i.e., administrators, deans, department heads, faculty) should take the following actions:

Recommendation 7: Engineering deans, department chairs, and faculty should acknowledge computing and computer science (CS) as a foundational knowledge and skill domain of modern engineering education and practice across all disciplines, and incorporate computing/CS more pervasively into engineering degree programs.

Recommendation 8: Engineering deans, department chairs, and senior faculty should promote and reward the adoption of evidence-based best practices in engineering pedagogy, including active and experiential learning and other student-centered practices that promote real-world applications of STEM concepts to complex sociotechnical problems like those that engineers will face in their work.

Recommendation 9: Engineering deans, department chairs, and faculty should strengthen partnerships with industry and other employers to make design courses and high-quality “real-world” engineering experiences—including internships, co-ops, mentored research projects, and other curricular and cocurricular activities and programs (e.g., Engineers Without Borders, Engineering Projects in Community Service [EPICS], the NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program)—available to students as an integral part of all undergraduate engineering programs. These educational elements help develop students’ professional and technical skills while providing a window on the active application of engineering knowledge and skills in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.

Recommendation 10: Engineering deans, department chairs, and faculty should adapt teaching and career guidance to better reflect the broad spectrum of engineering, engineering-proximate, and non-engineering occupations available to engineering graduates. To this end, they should engage (1) educators on curricular and cocurricular options and adaptations and (2) alumni who work in engineering, engineering-proximate, and non-engineering occupations and those who employ them to advise students on career options in the many different industries, jobs, and sectors where engineering knowledge and skills are valued and can be applied.

Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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Recommendation 11: Engineering deans, department chairs, and faculty should work closely with employers and engineering professional societies to (1) identify and advance the desired professional and technical skills of working engineering professionals, by offering or supporting continuing education to expand skills and knowledge, and (2) enhance the currency and quality of faculty teaching through support for faculty sabbaticals with engineering employers, the use of adjunct faculty drawn from the ranks of working engineers, faculty mentoring and guidance of undergraduate design projects involving engineering employer sponsors, and/or seminar series about cutting-edge technologies and advances in engineering pedagogy.

RESEARCH IS NEEDED TO UNDERSTAND THE EFFECTS OF FOREIGN-BORN STUDENTS WITH TEMPORARY VISAS ON U.S. ENGINEERING EDUCATION

The nature and dynamics of skilled immigration (i.e., immigrants with advanced skills and training, especially in technical fields), whether in the form of foreign students or nonstudent immigrants, and its impact on US engineering education, engineering labor markets, and the educational and career pathways of US natives in engineering are important. But the subject is sufficiently expansive and complex that the committee intentionally did not focus its fact finding and deliberation in this area. While the committee considers the broad topic of skilled immigration, which has been the subject of extensive research, worthy of a full, separate consensus study, the recent growth in undergraduate enrollment of foreign-born students on temporary visas in US engineering schools is a less studied piece of the skilled immigration puzzle that warrants additional attention.

Foreign-born students on temporary visas have constituted a large share of US engineering school enrollments at the master’s and PhD levels for decades, and the impacts of foreign graduate students have been the focus of considerable research. Only recently, however, has the temporary resident student share of US undergraduate engineering enrollments been increasing (an 80 percent increase from 5 percent in 2005 to 9 percent in 2014), concurrent with rapid growth in total undergraduate enrollments in engineering. The tuition paid by these students and the technical skills and multicultural perspectives they bring to engineering classrooms and research laboratories are valued by engineering faculty and administrators. Less information has been collected and analyzed at the undergraduate level than at the graduate level on the drivers and composition of rising enrollment in engineering of foreign-born students with temporary visas and its impacts on host institutions and on the educational and career pathways and choices as well as the engineering education experiences of both domestic and foreign-born temporary resident students.

Finding: Foreign-born students on temporary visas have long constituted a large share of US engineering school enrollments at the graduate level, whereas the rapid growth of foreign-born temporary resident student enrollments in undergraduate engineering programs is more recent. Accordingly, the impacts of foreign student enrollments have been studied more extensively at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level. Additional data gathering and research are needed on the nature and impact of foreign-born temporary resident student enrollments in US engineering programs, especially at the undergraduate level.

Recommendation 12: Universities, statistical agencies, and the higher education research community should monitor and evaluate the effects of growing enrollment of foreign-born students on temporary visas in engineering, particularly at the undergraduate level, on the educational and career choices as well as the engineering education experiences of both domestic and foreign students, and on host institutions of higher learning.

DATA GAPS HINDER UNDERSTANDING OF ENGINEERING EDUCATIONAL AND CAREER PATHWAYS

As the occupational distribution, work activities, and career pathways of engineering graduates make clear, the demand for engineering skills is much greater than that of engineering occupations alone. Yet national survey-based datasets provide only periodic snapshots of where engineering graduates are employed, the tasks they perform, or

Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
×

the educational background and job tasks of those in engineering occupations. In addition, the analysis that can be done for underrepresented minorities is limited by small sample sizes in surveys.

Finding: National survey-based datasets provide only limited insight into the dynamics of the market for engineering skills and knowledge, its connections to the educational enterprise, and broader implications.

Survey data can be integrated with “administrative data”—data collected by academic institutions, government agencies, and other organizations for purposes such as administrative recordkeeping, transactions, registration, and reporting.11 The resulting information can yield a deeper, more fine-grained understanding of the educational and career trajectories of engineering graduates and the relationship between engineering education, training, and workforce outcomes. Specifically, administrative data combined with survey data could shed light on engineering education patterns and student retention; engineering, engineering-proximate, and non-engineering employment choices; engineering employment dynamics; and economic impacts of the engineering workforce.

Although the innovative use of administrative datasets offers a uniquely comprehensive approach to examining educational and career pathways, there are several challenges to their use. The datasets were not initially developed to be used in analysis, nor have most of them been structured in a manner that allows them to be integrated with other datasets, so combining datasets requires effort to ensure that all data are properly cleaned and matched. Furthermore, federal regulations have been set up to protect the privacy of individuals at multiple levels; protection of data against unauthorized access or disclosure is the most significant challenge in the use of administrative data. Aggregating these datasets for research purposes is achievable, but requires a considered approach, resources to identify and integrate data, efforts to ensure data security and confidentiality, and cooperation between researchers and owners of the administrative data.

Finding: Despite some challenges to their use, administrative data can both supplement survey data and offer a completely new source of data to provide a more complete picture of the education, career paths, and training of engineers.

Recommendation 13: Researchers and policymakers should work with institutions of higher education, federal, state, and local government agencies, and other entities that hold administrative data to identify and build on administrative data resources to establish a better empirical foundation for research on the educational and career paths of engineers using a wide variety of definitions of what it means to be an engineer. Specifically, they should:

  • Identify resources to collect and integrate longitudinal administrative records from university transcript data and data from statistical agencies.
  • Use the data for characterizing student educational pathways (including student retention in higher education), employment choices, earnings and employment dynamics, and the economic returns to the costs of an engineering degree.
  • Maintain the confidential data in secure environments for analysis by authorized researchers for the purposes of building a robust evidence base to inform policy.

CONCLUSION

Engineering skills and knowledge are foundational to the innovation and technological development that drive long-term economic growth and help solve major societal challenges. Therefore it is important to understand the educational and career pathways of engineers. Using the data available, this report presents a comprehensive portrait of US engineers, their education, and their careers and career pathways.

The US engineering education system produces versatile and valuable members of the country’s technical workforce. Engineering enrollments are increasing in US universities and engineers have very low rates of

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11 Administrative data are explained in chapter 1, box 1-4, and appendix E.

Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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unemployment, indicating a healthy supply and demand for engineers. Engineering graduates have remarkable flexibility in a variety of careers, including management, and are employed and rewarded in other professional domains. In addition, the substantial share of those working as engineers who do not have engineering degrees contribute in important ways to the US economy, and benefit financially and in other ways. This portrait of engineering suggests a field that has impact far beyond traditional measures.

At the same time and for a variety of reasons, women and individuals from certain minority populations continue to be underrepresented in engineering degree pathways and careers. For this reason alone, it is fair to say that US engineering is not meeting its full potential.

Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25284.
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Engineering skills and knowledge are foundational to technological innovation and development that drive long-term economic growth and help solve societal challenges. Therefore, to ensure national competitiveness and quality of life it is important to understand and to continuously adapt and improve the educational and career pathways of engineers in the United States. To gather this understanding it is necessary to study the people with the engineering skills and knowledge as well as the evolving system of institutions, policies, markets, people, and other resources that together prepare, deploy, and replenish the nation’s engineering workforce.

This report explores the characteristics and career choices of engineering graduates, particularly those with a BS or MS degree, who constitute the vast majority of degreed engineers, as well as the characteristics of those with non-engineering degrees who are employed as engineers in the United States. It provides insight into their educational and career pathways and related decision making, the forces that influence their decisions, and the implications for major elements of engineering education-to-workforce pathways.

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