Thursday, December 12, 2013

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Engineering Task Force Recommendations Address Critical Shortage

A year-long study panel has recommended a series of proposals, some requiring decisive short-term action, in order to meet the huge and looming in-state demand for engineers and computer scientists over the coming decade.

In late 2012, then-chairman of The University of Texas System Board of Regents Gene Powell and UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D. created the Task Force on Engineering Education for Texas in the 21st Century. The goal of the task force was to determine the current state of engineering degree programs in Texas, study current and future demand for engineers, and identify strategies for the Texas Legislature and higher education leaders that will foster student success in the field of engineering. The task force was made up of members of the Board of Regents, UT engineering school deans, as well as industry and academic leaders.

“This is a landmark report for the University of Texas System that addresses one of the most critical fields,” said UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D. “The impetus for this report was the realization that we have a good understanding of workforce issues in important areas like healthcare and a plan for addressing those issues, but we really did not have a grasp on the needs or the challenges in the field of engineering until the members of this task force embarked on their work.”

The Texas Workforce Commission projects that the state will need nearly 9,000 new engineers and computer specialists every year for the next decade — far below the numbers currently being graduated.  At the same time, thousands of highly qualified Texas students are leaving the state to study engineering because of limited opportunity here and are forced to pay out-of state tuition.

Even though engineering graduates are among the highest paid undergraduates right out of college, there is a critical shortage in the state, according to the Task Force on Engineering Education for Texas in the 21st Century.

To help meet the state’s critical need, the task force noted the need to immediately strengthen the pipeline of Texas high school students pursuing college engineering studies by creating partnerships with the industry. To do so, the task force recommends The UT System launch one of the most significant initiatives in the nation in the advancement of engineering education.

The research mission of universities also could be expanded in quantity and quality by greater industry collaboration and funding.  Currently $36 million or 11 percent of research dollars for the UT System comes directly from industry at a time when federal funding is limited.

“The field of engineering is critically important to the future of our state’s economy,” said Regent Alex Cranberg, who co-chaired the task force with UT Dallas President David Daniel. “We have outlined significant priorities that, if implemented boldly, would allow Texas to lead in opportunity growth for students while not only protecting but in fact enhancing excellence in teaching and research. This Task Force has embraced the notion that there need not be a tradeoff between quantity and quality.”

The report suggests creating a larger UT System academic presence in Houston, the state’s largest city and the nation’s Energy Capital responsible for about one-third of the state’s total economic output. Deeper engagement of the UT System institutions in the region will tap into Houston’s large pool of industry talent, know-how and research efforts to enhance the student experience and research product across the UT System.

Specifically, the task force makes five recommendations:

  1. Expand the production of engineers and computer scientists in Texas, and graduate at least 50 percent more students per year within a decade. Each institution within the UT System has developed a preliminary plan for expansion. As part of this expansion, numerous opportunities exist for collaboration among UT System institutions and for new approaches such as leveraging the UT System Institute for Transformational Learning. Significantly, The University of Texas at Austin has committed to increase its overall capacity by 20 percent — an increase of 1,000 in undergraduate enrollment.  This increase will be funded by an increase in total student population at the university and is supported by the Regents’ recent approval of $300 million in funding for the Engineering Education and Research Center at UT Austin.
  2. Motivate and inspire more young Texans to pursue engineering careers by strengthening the K-12 pipeline. Key initiatives include expanding science and math teaching capability via UTeach programs, engaging students in collaborative programs with industry and utilizing online tools specifically aimed at helping Texans develop essential math skills.
  3. Engage industry in mutually beneficial partnerships through greater use of internships and co-op programs and promote more engagement of industry in institution’s research.
  4. Yield more value from University lands by putting the research capabilities of the U. T. faculty and students to work on maximizing the value of hydrocarbons from these lands. This will accelerate the growth of the Permanent University Fund as well as seed and support invaluable research and human resource development.
  5. Brand this overall initiative, which would constitute an historic growth and enhancement of engineering education in Texas. The initiative would represent a tremendous competitive advantage for Texas as it recruits and grows highly successful companies, big and small, who need engineering and computer science expertise, as well as entrepreneurship, to be successful in this technologically intense, globally competitive economy.
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