Saturday, May 22, 2010

What Shortage? Engineering Degrees and Graduate School Enrollment Are at Record High Levels

There's a critical shortage of scientists and engineers in the United States, right?  We hear that all the time, and that's what I thought.  Until I checked the data.  

According to Department of Education data, there was a record high number of engineering degrees granted in 2008 (most recent year available, see chart above), a total of 126,612 (83,853 bachelor's degrees, 34,592 master's, and 8,167 doctor's), which is an increase of more than 18 percent from 2002.  Bachelor's degrees in engineering are down from the peak years of 1984-1987, when more than 90,000 students were graduating with undergraduate engineering degrees, but graduate degrees have increased dramatically - Master's degrees in engineering have doubled since 1981 and doctor's degrees have doubled since 1987.

Data for enrollment in graduate engineering programs show a similar upward trend, with a record high 131,676 graduate engineering students in 2007 (most recent year available, see chart).  With record high graduate enrollment, there should be a continuation of the ongoing increases in engineering graduate degrees. 

If you do a Google search for "shortage of engineers," the top links are for articles with titles like "There is NO Engineering Shortage," "What Shortage of Scientists and Engineers?", "Study: There is No Shortage of U.S. Engineers," and "Scientist Shortage? Maybe Not."

So I guess I'm coming late to the discussion here, but this is my contribution to the myth-busting about the mythical "engineering shortage."  

45 Comments:

At 5/22/2010 9:58 AM, Anonymous Tom Scott said...

MP, what I have heard requires slicing the salami a bi. The issue is a shortage of US student engineers. Enrollment in engineering programs is heavily influenced by the presence of international students.

The percentage of US students has been declining for more than a few years and it is a serious problem.

This was told to me two years ago by the then Dean of the Engineering program at Clemson University, himself a US National born in Pakistan.

 
At 5/22/2010 10:48 AM, Blogger Dr William J McKibbin said...

Most interesting, thanks...

 
At 5/22/2010 10:56 AM, Anonymous frank said...

"There's a critical shortage of scientists and engineers in the United States, right? We hear that all the time, and that's what I thought. Until I checked the data."

*****************************

There is a shortage of American Engineers who are willing to work for the salary of an Engineer from India.

 
At 5/22/2010 11:12 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"There is a shortage of American Engineers who are willing to work for the salary of an Engineer from India"...

(is that you sethstorm?)

So what you're saying frank is that American engineers are pricing themselves out of the market place of jobs, right?

 
At 5/22/2010 11:50 AM, Blogger Michael said...

You may be missing 3 things.

1. The level of graduates may not meet the markets needs.(My strength and materials instructor, retired from the nuclear energy building industry, said even if this country went nuclear energy, we wouldn't get far since we lack the needed 2 million highly skilled welders.)

2. Construction companies are requiring their workers to have an engineering degree. (The restaurant industry is starting to require a 2 year degree in culinary arts to chop lettuce.)

3. Governments are paying their people to get degrees. (Such as the grass inspector that makes sure people's lawns aren't above 6 inches gets a surveying degree because government is paying for it and it will double his pay.)

It's a well formatted chart, but it doesn't say anything.

 
At 5/22/2010 12:18 PM, Anonymous lyle said...

The issue is at what rate of pay, until recently if you had the skills in math required for engineering you could go to wall street, engage in financial innovation, and get a lot more money. People are driven by incentives, so they took their degrees and became quants on Wall Street. The foreign student does not have the option a us resident student does. So yes the question is relative rates of pay between professions. Raise the pay of engineers and more will go into stay in the profession.

 
At 5/22/2010 1:51 PM, Anonymous Cooper said...

few things I learned while in Engineering school,

1) many engineering students are international, and more importantly Return to their home country after graduation and maybe a little work experience.

2) If there was a shortage of Engineers I would be paid better, but i dont consider the 40-70k range low enough to describe a shortage.

3) this seams to hold among all the majors I have friends in, CEE, CompE, Transportation, Structural, Mechanical

4) less sure about Materials, ChemE, NukeE, or the more esoteric ones.

 
At 5/22/2010 2:10 PM, Anonymous sandman said...

How is it possible to comment on a shortage simply by looking at the supply side? Undergraduate engineering enrollment is up less than 10% on this chart. What is the change in demand for engineers during this same time?

I'm in software, and I'd say that the demand for software engineers has risen much more than 10 - 20% over the past 15 years.

 
At 5/22/2010 2:39 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

It mystifies me, but lawyers and MBA-pencil pushers make far more than engineers, though engineering is a lot harder to master.

They say supply and demand, and I guess that is it.

But run-of-the-mill lawyers in Los Angeles make $250 an hour. I do not know of any engineers paid like that.

Personally, I think we need legal changes to compel many disputes in binding arbitration,

 
At 5/22/2010 2:54 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"Personally, I think we need legal changes to compel many disputes in binding arbitration,"

Benji, is this really you? the free market advocate?

What would MF say about such an idea?

 
At 5/22/2010 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Benjamin, MBAs and lawyers earn more through planning and directing others. Example: Client calls me with $1000 job (10 hrs @ $100). I assign it to someone with high, specific skills for $500 (10 hrs @ $50). My hour planning the solution before handing it off, and my hour editing the result net me $500, ergo $250/hr. Or you could call it outsourcing ;-)

 
At 5/22/2010 3:15 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>1. My strength and materials instructor, retired from the nuclear energy building industry, said ...we lack the needed 2 million highly skilled welders.

Michael, when you told your economics instructor about this problem, how did they think the market would resolve this shortage?

>2. Construction companies are requiring their workers to have an engineering degree. (The restaurant industry is starting to require a 2 year degree in culinary arts to chop lettuce.)

References, examples please.

>3. Governments are paying their people to get degrees. (Such as the grass inspector that makes sure people's lawns aren't above 6 inches gets a surveying degree because government is paying for it and it will double his pay.)

References, examples please.

 
At 5/22/2010 3:18 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>Raise the pay of engineers and more will go into stay in the profession.

If there is truly a shortage of engineers, this should happen automatically, right?

 
At 5/22/2010 4:32 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

I read, I believe, in "The Making of an Economist" only 600 or 800 Ph.Ds and 2,000 MAs in Economics are awarded in the U.S. each year.

Another source:

Considering Graduate School in Economics?
April 2007

"Roughly 1000 Economics PhDs are awarded in the US and Canada every year."

That compares with over 100,000 MBAs awarded each year in the U.S.

Given the economic situation, I know, even Paul Krugman would do a much better job managing the economy than Congress.

 
At 5/22/2010 4:43 PM, Anonymous grant said...

PT?.
Then why not move ahead in the scheme of things and get these political parties to understand that you just can't stack the party with popular idiots who will get you into government.That it is more important when you sit on the government benches that you have effective people that understand the issues in depth rather than people that understanding nothing but are totally convinced that they know everything.

 
At 5/22/2010 5:59 PM, Blogger sethstorm said...

There's no shortage in the US, it's that they want to go to an H1-b versus non-degreed. They'll give you all the qualifications you want to hear but deliver worse the US citizen who has to clean up after their mess.

Kill the degree requirement and the offshoring. Then fill with US citizens. Stop giving them the ability to avoid US citizens and actually responding to them.

No, don't even think of "staffing agency".

The people are there that can do the work in the US. Otherwise, don't complain about a lack of workers that aren't "just so" when there's tons of them unemployed.

 
At 5/22/2010 6:02 PM, Blogger sethstorm said...


If there is truly a shortage of engineers, this should happen automatically, right?

Not if there is a force outside the regulatory domain of the US that prevents them from raising it. Remove it and only think about putting it back when there's an actual problem of finding US citizens.

 
At 5/22/2010 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's is not supply that defines engineering needs.

 
At 5/22/2010 7:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a shortage and amateur economists using poor research methods fail to capture the market dynamics.

First almost all studies that pro-port to show no shortage use available variables on hiring. They do not have access to company decisions on where to locate facilities. As a consultant I have assisted numerous companies locate a new facility. The decision is often based upon the availability of talent. Lack of talent often drives the decision. This information is not captured in the analysis.

Second the assertions in no way capture the opportunity cost of not having more US engineers.

 
At 5/22/2010 7:32 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"Given the economic situation, I know, even Paul Krugman would do a much better job managing the economy than Congress."

You're kidding, right? I wouldn't trust that former economist/current political hack Krugman to make change at a bake sale.

As far as Congress goes, they manage the economy - whether it needs managing or not - the way they are paid to manage it by large corporations and unions. A few thousand to a political campaign can get millions in taxpayer dollars in return.

The only other possible explanation is that we continue to elect year after year, and decade after decade, totally clueless people, who can barely dress themselves in the morning. I don't find this likely.

 
At 5/22/2010 7:39 PM, Blogger sethstorm said...


The decision is often based upon the availability of talent. Lack of talent often drives the decision. This information is not captured in the analysis.

Depends on if they're only wanting to justify their conclusion.

There is no shortage, they just are too picky.

 
At 5/22/2010 7:51 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"The people are there that can do the work in the US. Otherwise, don't complain about a lack of workers that aren't "just so" when there's tons of them unemployed."

Seth! Seth!, Seth! These people must be willing to work at the market rate or they will remain unemployed. Period.

>"Not if there is a force outside the regulatory domain of the US..."

What is this "force"? Is it the "invisible hand"?

>"They'll give you all the qualifications you want to hear but deliver worse the US citizen who has to clean up after their mess."

If this were true, there would be plenty of work for US citizens cleaning up messes, and unemployment wouldn't be a problem.

 
At 5/22/2010 8:02 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"Second the assertions in no way capture the opportunity cost of not having more US engineers."

And what are those opportunity costs?

 
At 5/22/2010 8:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shortage of engineers? Maybe not. But one thing is for sure, we do not have enough ethnic studies majors. And what about feminist and gay, lesbian and transgender majors? I'll bet we've got the edge on the rest of the world there.

 
At 5/22/2010 9:14 PM, Blogger Michael said...

>1. My strength and materials instructor, retired from the nuclear energy building industry, said ...we lack the needed 2 million highly skilled welders.

Michael, when you told your economics instructor about this problem, how did they think the market would resolve this shortage?

Typical econ response is that more people will go in to welding. The reality is the US will need to bring in large numbers of foreigners to do and teach nuclear welding. Currently, having welding skills is one of the worst job skill sets to have in America.

>2. Construction companies are requiring their workers to have an engineering degree. (The restaurant industry is starting to require a 2 year degree in culinary arts to chop lettuce.)

In each of my civil engineering classes, the instructor asks the students what they are majoring in and why they are here. Were talking guys in their 30 an 40s. The overwhelming answer is that their former employers are going to be hiring people with degrees first. I'm talking framers and concrete pourers here. As for the restaurant business, it's probably being driven by government regulation. A gas station can't can't sell coffee to customers without installing 5 sinks. The school I'm taking classes at has expanded their culinary art facilities, but still has a wait list to get in to the program. I've talked with some of the 30 something students in the culinary arts program an the story is the same. If you want to keep your low skill job at a restaurant, get a degree.

>3. Governments are paying their people to get degrees. (Such as the grass inspector that makes sure people's lawns aren't above 6 inches gets a surveying degree because government is paying for it and it will double his pay.)

The Cincinnati Enquirer only allows unpaid access for a month back on stories. Can't give you the link, but city employees get tuition covered for any courses they take and there is no requirement for the course to be related to the employees job.

 
At 5/22/2010 9:46 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"but city employees get tuition covered for any courses they take and there is no requirement for the course to be related to the employees job."

If you live in Cincinnati your tax dollars are paying for this. You should be outraged.

But how do you know that a surveying degree will double the grass inspector's pay?

Where else, that you know of, is this happening?

 
At 5/22/2010 10:21 PM, Blogger Michael said...

I was playing lose with the grass inspectors pay.

But the Sate of Ohio has a law requiring continuing education of teachers and that they have a masters in education.

This guarantees that teachers will be at peak pay when they "retire", since they are free to retire and get benefits and return to work the next day.

A "retired" teacher in their 40s can easily be making $120,000.

 
At 5/23/2010 1:38 AM, Blogger sethstorm said...


What is this "force"? Is it the "invisible hand"?

The market that is beyond the US. It is more accessible to businesses than the reverse is for people wishing to look for work.


If this were true, there would be plenty of work for US citizens cleaning up messes, and unemployment wouldn't be a problem.

That presumes that they ask for help every single time. Or that they don't write it off.


These people must be willing to work at the market rate or they will remain unemployed. Period.

That presumes that it can be met and that it ignores the upward pressures of the unemployed. They are not going to take a haircut on their wages (and their unemployment) if it's already quite low to start with.

 
At 5/23/2010 1:50 AM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>...the upward pressures of the unemployed.

What upward pressure could that be?

>They are not going to take a haircut on their wages (and their unemployment) if it's already quite low to start with.

Well, then as I said, they will remain unemployed, and all those H1-b folks will get jobs.

Or businesses will relocate out of the US where they can find people willing to work for a reasonable wage. Then there won't any longer be a question about those jobs. They will be gone forever.

How long do you imagine unemployment benefits will continue to be extended?

 
At 5/23/2010 2:01 AM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"I was playing lose with the grass inspectors pay."

Ya, I thought you might be.

How about this next one?

>"But the Sate of Ohio has a law requiring continuing education of teachers and that they have a masters in education."

Or this one?

>"...since they are free to retire and get benefits and return to work the next day."

Or this one?

>"A "retired" teacher in their 40s can easily be making $120,000."

It appears that you're "playing loose" with each of these assertions. If you want to insist they're accurate, how about some references? Anecdotal stories from people in your classes aren't really adequate.

 
At 5/23/2010 3:09 AM, Blogger sethstorm said...


How long do you imagine unemployment benefits will continue to be extended?

I don't know. At this point, it's not a 'third rail', but not something that is politically viable to kill.


Or businesses will relocate out of the US where they can find people willing to work for a reasonable wage.

You presume that the business is always reasonable and that the unemployed are unreasonable.


What upward pressure could that be?

The part where you pay higher wages to get better people. Or does that only apply to C-level stuff these days?

 
At 5/23/2010 4:01 AM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"You presume that the business is always reasonable and that the unemployed are unreasonable."

It doesn't matter what I consider reasonable or unreasonable, the jobs belong to the business, so if they are unable to get US workers at what they can afford to pay, they will take those jobs somewhere else, or just go out of business. In either case, those jobs will be gone.

 
At 5/23/2010 8:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of the Companies that send the 'Contractors' very easily lie about the "Qualifications" of their supply. For people who write the opinions ( Paid by the Outsourcing industry :-) ) saying people with L1 H1 B1 visas get paid more than locals , can you tell me why most of the indian companies that get people here on L1 or B1 pay $1000 per month per diem only? or even worse could you please tell me why they make those H1 guys to work 12 - 14 hours for the pay of 8 Hours?

 
At 5/23/2010 9:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is advantageous for employers to claim a shortage of engineers because they would like the Congress to increase the supply of cheap foreign H-1B labor. According to the Department of Labor:

H-1B workers may be hired even when a qualified U.S. worker wants the job, and a U.S. worker can be displaced from the job in favor of the foreign worker.

The H-1B was invented expressly for the purpose of suppressing tech wages by increasing the supply.

It started in the mid 1980s with researchers at the Office of Science and Technology Policy of the National Science Foundation panicked over two pieces of demographic data. First they observed that the percentage of 22 years olds that elected to go to graduate school had remained constant for a long time. Second the number of 22 year olds was declining. The National Science Foundation put these two facts together and in 1987 produced a report forecasting a 675,000 shortage in scientist and engineers between 1990 and 2005. That did not happen. Instead the NSF got hauled before an angry Congress wanting to know why it had been deceived and why unemployment among PhDs had doubled. But by then the damage had been done.

The National Science Foundation rejected letting the market work. They could have done nothing and let increasing wages bring more supply of tech workers but rejected it on the grounds that there would be a lag which would produce really high wages in the short term and no government agency wanted wages to increase for the tech workers they needed. Private employers joined with government agencies to press the government for the H-1B and more support for foreign students in graduate school. That support, along with the resulting low tech wages and very valuable non monetary compensation in the form of citizenship are the reasons so many graduate students are foreigners.

 
At 5/23/2010 11:06 AM, Blogger Michael said...

How about this next one?

>"But the Sate of Ohio has a law requiring continuing education of teachers and that they have a masters in education."

Or this one?

>"...since they are free to retire and get benefits and return to work the next day."

Or this one?

>"A "retired" teacher in their 40s can easily be making $120,000."

No, not here. There is a continuing education requirement and a masters in education requirement. That's going to put teachers in the top pay bracket. There is a 25 year teaching requirement for full retirement. There is no prohibition against a teacher getting retirement benefits and full pay. So a teacher can retire in their mid 40s and work another 20 years getting retirement and full pay.

The top pay bracket for teachers is 70 to 80 thousand. My mom retired before the 25 year mark is gets around 35 thousand a year.

 
At 5/23/2010 11:07 AM, Anonymous andy weintraub said...

"Shortage" means something very specific to an economist: an excess of demand over supply. The result is rising earnings for the occupation in question. And that's exactly what we see for engineers - especially aeronautical, electrical, and computer. The growing number of engineers in school is a response to the higher earnings the market has dictated in response to the shortage.

 
At 5/23/2010 3:03 PM, Blogger Michael said...

What does a "Shortage" of global warming mean to a guy Paul Krugman?

More people hoping the earth is hotter than it really is?

 
At 5/24/2010 7:51 AM, Anonymous DrTorch said...

You should look into the "Young Scientists Network" an informal organization that existed in the early-to-mid 1990s.

Their task was busting "the Myth" about the so called shortage of scientists and engineers. Most of the membership consisted of unemployed scientists (often at the PhD level).

I doubt as if the myth was new then.

This is just a repeat of what's gone on before.

 
At 5/24/2010 8:49 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"As far as Congress goes, they manage the economy - whether it needs managing or not"...

Well Ron H you're hardly alone in being skeptical about Congress' ability to run the economy if Rasmussen Reports knows what its doing: 72% Are Not Confident Congress Knows What It’s Doing When It Comes to The Economy...

"The H-1B was invented expressly for the purpose of suppressing tech wages by increasing the supply"...

Oh dear! sethstorm and pseudo benny have a kindred spirit in anon @ 5/23/2010 9:57 AM...

Got something credible to back up your statement anon @ 5/23/2010 9:57 AM?

Heck! You may be right for all I know...:-)

 
At 5/24/2010 1:05 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

juandos, thanks for the link. Interesting numbers.

I'm surprised this one is so low:

>"72% Are Not Confident Congress Knows What It’s Doing When It Comes to The Economy..."

This is easy to believe:

>"and recent polling finds that many voters continue to feel a randomly selected sample of people from the phone book could do a better job than their elected representatives in Congress."

Who could these people possibly be? Family members of congresspersons maybe?

>"(6%) who are Very Confident..."

 
At 5/24/2010 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow... I cannot believe it took so many freaking post until Anonymous @ 5/23/2010 9:57 AM finally came up with an on tangent response.

Whether you like it or now, there is NO (as in ZERO) shortage of engineers in the US. The same people who have fear mongered this perception have always been the same individuals who constantly vouched for H1B visas through Congress.

I graduated college in 2005 with an Engineering Degree and what I saw among my fellow engineering grads became somewhat of a broken record:

1. The students who came out with solid GPAs went to grad school or got a decent job at one of the big tech firms.

2. The average (people in the Mean GPA distribution) to below average student got phased out and essentially got jobs (mostly in in other fields (mainly business0, as they couldn't even get even a menial 45k/ yr engineering job.

3. The people who did well in the early stages were often subject to glass ceiling and rampant layoffs.

4. Most of the aforementioned individuals in number 3 have left the field ever since as a result of their jobs being HIGHLY, and I do mean, HIGHLY prone to being outsourced.

 
At 5/25/2010 10:07 AM, Blogger juandos said...

Wow! sethstorm is still in the throes of his delusional nightmare: "There's no shortage in the US, it's that they want to go to an H1-b versus non-degreed. They'll give you all the qualifications you want to hear but deliver worse the US citizen who has to clean up after their mess"...

Got something credible to back that rant up with sethstorm?

"Who could these people possibly be? Family members of congresspersons maybe?"...

Well Ron H I'm guessing that it could be most anyone with a bit of character and honesty in him or her would be a good substitute for what's in Congress (and many state elective offices) today...

Maybe Froma Harrop explains it sensibly...

 
At 6/10/2010 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me, from these comments, that the system has long been rigged to force everyone to patronize the "higher ed" institutions whether you need to or not.

Free market, indeed.

 
At 6/29/2010 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dont bother going into electrical engineering. When layoffs happen, it's generally the Electrical Engineers...I have a 3.9 GPA (Grad) and 3.5 GPA (undergrad) with 8 years of experience in different engineering disciplines..it's still impossible to find a job. dont tell me it's the recession either b/c it was nearly impossible to even get a response after undergrad and grad school. I worked my ass off the last 10 years and have nothing to show for it. Id like to start a revolution to keep kids away from the technical field. I shouldve listened to my parents and gone into healthcare. Just look at the lines at job fairs--every engineering company has long lines of people to turn in their resume. Of course business and healthcare reps were LOOKING for people..they actually called me out and asked me what i was majoring in. Anyone reading this and thinking about going into engineering...PLEASE stay away, it's not worth ruining your life over.

 
At 9/16/2011 4:21 PM, Blogger al100 said...

"Dont bother going into electrical engineering"

I couldn't agree more - I know several people with PHD's in electrical engineering (one from Stanford!) with experience ranging from 5 years to 20 years and none of them can find full time work. I have a friend that works at Cisco and interviewed (before the hiring freeze) candidates with masters from Stanford for a manufacturing support job (no design work). In the end they went with a co-op.

IBM has more engineers working in India than the US and believe they would like nothing more than to have it be 90%. Cisco is hell bent on having the majority of their workforce in India - I know this because many of their employees are training their replacements in India. The employers know what the job situation is and are abusing their workers before they let them go.

Don't go into EE unless you like being unemployed. I see no scenario where this will change for the current generation.

 

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