A recent article in the New York Times, “How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work” provided a graphic example of how other countries, most notably China, have assumed leadership in many areas of technology. A recurring theme in the article was that China could provide a more adequate supply of engineers to Apple and other American manufacturing concerns than can the U.S. While the root cause of the United States’ relative decline in manufacturing with respect to countries such as China is complex, it is clear that one key reason has been (and continues to be) the relative scarcity of appropriately skilled workers including engineers in the United States.
Unfortunately for Kentucky, the state lags behind most of the rest of the nation in providing the type of skilled workforce required to compete in a global economy. While the resolution of this disadvantage will take a concerted effort on behalf of the educational community in the state, the University of Kentucky must play a central role in the effort. The magnitude of the problem that must be addressed cannot be overstated. Kentucky ranks perilously close to the bottom nationally in several key areas including the number of doctoral engineers per 100,000 people (47th); percentage of bachelor’s degrees granted in science and engineering (48th); and the percentage of graduate students ages 25-34 in science, engineering and health (44th).
Hopeful signs have emerged recently that the state is beginning to close the educational gap with other states. Kentucky’s college enrollment per capita (5.87% vs. 5.88%) is now close to the national average. Unfortunately, the percentage of these students enrolled in engineering (1.9% vs. 3.3%) remains far too low. For comparison, in Indiana, the percentage of college students enrolled in engineering is 4.0; in Ohio 3.8; in Virginia and West Virginia 3.5; and in Tennessee 3.2.
UK, by far the largest engineering program in the state, ranks 55th among all public engineering schools in undergraduate enrollment with a total of 2,985 students as of the fall 2011 semester. Based on this enrollment data, UK’s engineering enrollment would have to increase by about 2,800 students, or by nearly 100 percent, for the state to reach the national average in this metric. And this assumes no further growth in engineering enrollments nationally.
Why the need to grow? What role should UK play?
The short answer is the University of Kentucky is uniquely positioned as both the Commonwealth’s Land-Grant University and its Flagship institution. Because of this position it has the responsibility of providing engineering and computer science students. According to the terms included in the legislation that created the University of Kentucky, The Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 and Foundations of the University of Kentucky, “the Agricultural and Mechanical College was to teach courses in both Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (Engineering), and provide military instruction as well. Scientific and classical studies might be included, but these were never to exceed Agriculture and Engineering in size, scope, and importance.”
The Kentucky Council for Post Secondary Education (CPE) has set ambitious goals for UK by 2020 as part of its effort to double the number of college educated individuals among the state’s adult population. Assuming that engineering at UK contributes to the overall institutional enrollment and research productivity at its current levels, the college would have to add nearly 50 tenured/tenure-track faculty, grow the student body by nearly 25% and increase its research funding by nearly a factor of three.
Thanks to the addition of new facilities and the quality of the faculty and staff, the college is poised to embark on the expansion required to assist the university in meeting the Council’s expectations.
What will this mean for our faculty?
Approximately two-thirds of our faculty has been hired since 1990, creating an exciting combination of innovation and energy to go with a long-established commitment to teaching, research and service. The work performed by faculty and staff through our dynamic research centers impacts life in the Commonwealth and beyond. The College of Engineering has a critical role in Kentucky’s New Economy initiatives, and in UK’s goal of becoming a top 20 public research university.
The current College of Engineering faculty has received more CAREER Awards from the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies than engineering and science faculty in all other academic colleges in the state of Kentucky combined. More than a quarter of the College of Engineering’s full time professors are also Fellows of one or more professional societies.
And despite a healthy 37 percent growth in undergraduate engineering enrollment from fall 2007 through fall 2010, the current undergraduate student to faculty ratio at the UK College of Engineering is 16.5 versus an average of 20 among our SEC brothers and 16.7 among our benchmarks. We clearly have the capacity to increase the number of students – particularly in the areas of computer science, electrical and computer engineering and chemical and materials engineering.
What does this mean for our students?
Over the past few years, the college has seen a significant increase in the quality and quantity of students. One out of six UK freshmen now entering the University of Kentucky is in the College of Engineering; one of three incoming freshmen with an ACT score of 31 or higher is in the College of Engineering; and one of four incoming freshmen who received a Singletary Scholarship was a College of Engineering student.
The 2011 freshman class of 647 students set records for its size and quality. The average ACT Composite was 28.1 (comparable SAT of 1250) and the ACT Math was 28.9 (comparable SAT of 648). Undergraduate enrollment is at a record level.
What does this mean in terms of facilities?
Having research and teaching laboratories, as well as intelligent classrooms and office space, allows our faculty to be more productive and effective in what they do.
The college’s newest edifice, the Davis Marksbury Building, places engineering and computer science at UK at a high-tech hub—a center of innovation, creativity and discovery that will be crucial to helping Kentucky create a thriving, knowledge-based economy. It is not only a symbol of technology, but also the university’s first building to receive a LEED Gold certification. Two other buildings are planned for the site, which is being termed the Digital Village.
How can you help?
Our alumni, in addition to being successful engineers and computer scientists, are leaders in their organizations and their communities. Many have achieved great success as entrepreneurs, creating new companies and jobs in Kentucky and throughout the nation. Nationally, more than 1,000 UK engineering alumni serve as presidents, CEOs, vice presidents or partners in their corporations. You serve as models for prospective students.
Alumni contribute generously to the college. Your funds have enabled us to expand our scholarship program in line with student enrollment increases, have underwritten the extracurricular activities of our students in such nationally visible competitions as the Solar Decathlon, Solar Car, Quarter Scale Tractor, as well as paper presentations at the national meetings of a large segment of professional societies.
Much of our infrastructure has been paid for by generous alumni donations, as have special programs to permit our students to study abroad in a variety of countries. Your support has enabled the college to launch a new technical communications effort that will greatly improve the communication skills of our graduates. Private support now provides approximately 10% of the $65 million budget of the College of Engineering. Thanks to you, the College of Engineering at UK is well positioned to expand its educational, research, and service impact on the state of Kentucky.