The problems with engineering education
Readers agree with a recent editorial that college tuition, along with room and board, have become too expensive, and for no apparent reason. Another reader notes that most engineering professors have less engineering experience than your average Maytag repairman.
College costs too much!
I agree with all your points in your recent editorial (“College Classes for the Wealthy,” June 23). Both of my daughters are college graduates and my entire family has racked up debt to pay for all of this education. My youngest daughter is currently getting a second degree because the first one was useless in this economy. So my major concern is the actual “value” of a college education.
I will say that I am a college graduate and believe in the educational experience, but we are working on two fronts here. Prior to 9/11, we had plenty of good jobs and an investment in college had a pretty fair payback. Now the MBAs want to hire rocket scientists for $20 an hour without benefits. They also want a service economy so they can skim off all the profits created by us drones.
What needs to be done is get college expenses down to a more-realistic level so more folks can get their kids into schools. The world would be a better place because of this. But we also need businesses — manufacturing, not service providers. Great manufacturing economies create all sorts of wealth for drones and MBAs alike, but that takes time, and I guess in this JIT world they don’t want to wait.
I also have a comment on the letter writer who said engineers should stop whining and get on with it. If I invest big bucks to get educated, I need a definite return, or at least a good shot at one. I’m all for working hard and have been there and done that. But no one should have to work seven days a week until they’re 75. Instead, we should be working smarter, which supposedly comes from education.
Your editorial points out that college educations are becoming increasingly out of reach for many kids from middle-class homes, and that lots of students abandon the engineering field to go into higher-paying careers, such as finance.
These conditions result in fewer engineers needed to invigorate and maintain a healthy U. S. economy. However, there’s another far-reaching, worrisome economic upshot for today’s and tomorrow’s engineers. It’s based on the “money follows merit” principle, the belief of many in this educated class that they work in a meritocracy in which people basically end up, in economic terms, where they deserve to be.
In this social system, engineers are typically in the lower-upper class, along with doctors, accountants, and lawyers. At the high end are the ultrarich, many of whom don’t deserve their wealth and benefit from rigged compensation systems in boardrooms and on Wall Street, which often rewards mediocrity as success.
This inequality and the rise of the undeserving rich are shattering the “money follows merit” idea that has long been the core of self-esteem for professionals. Once engineers and their lower-upper colleagues realize merit is not the key to wealth and comfort, it may change the future for all of us.
My thoughts are prompted by Matt Miller’s book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas; Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash New Prosperity.
You are correct in mentioning that the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation. The growth in college tuition, however, has exceeded inflation, going exponentially upward in recent years. Herein lies the real problem with affordability for middle-class parents like myself. With two boys in college, I know what I’m talking about.
Stephen G. McLintock
Who’s teaching tomorrow’s engineers?
Discussions of engineering education often fail to address the problem that we now have with the third generation of professors who went from grad school to teaching at universities without gaining the benefits of real-world engineering experience.
I finished my advanced degree while working full time in aerospace. At that time, I had about 10 years of experience and could see that my professors knew nothing of engineering practice. When all my papers for completion had been signed, I asked whether it would be fair to say that I had more actual engineering experience than the whole department. They said I probably had three times as much because nobody had held a real engineering position for any length of time.
I then reluctantly spent five years teaching mechanical engineering at a different university where the situation was even worse. When the accreditation committee criticized the school for not having any robotics and automation courses, the response was that we will have somebody read some books and courses will be offered in the next quarter. It was only then that I could fully appreciate the old German rule of thumb that it took 10 years of advanced engineering in industry before you could qualify as a professor of engineering.
The results of this lack of actual engineering experience in engineering faculty appear frequently. For example, a recent presentation by the California Air Resource Board contained calculations of pollutant emission 20 years into the future and the calculations boasted seven significant figures. When I questioned the young presenter whether he communicated with God to achieve such precision, he admitted that he did not, but that his calculator gave him the answers. Equally enlightening was the proposed measurement of pressures with a precision of one part in one-hundred thousandth of atmosphere. When questioned, the CARB engineers insisted that taking such measurements were a very simple matter.
With virtually no real-life experience in engineering faculties, we can expect not only lack of appreciation of engineering in industrial and commercial sectors, but also the total dismissal by regulatory agencies convinced that objections to technically nonsensical requirements are not relevant because all will be overcome by “technology forcing regulations.”
Never too safe
I have sold light-to-medium-duty conveyor belting as my primary career for over 30 years. We can never ever talk too much about safety. As noted in Lanny Berke’s three-part series on conveyer safety, quite often the equipment we are around is moving and can pose dangers. I have had several colleagues injured throughout the years, usually in accidents that could have been avoided.
So thanks for the articles. I am passing the links around to those in my company.