Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Drop in Black Engineering Enrollments Confounds Experts: Fall off in Financial Aid Suspected as Culprit

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Drop in Black Engineering Enrollments Confounds Experts: Fall off in Financial Aid Suspected as Culprit

Article excerpt

Drop in Black Engineering Enrollments Confounds Experts: Fall off in. Financial Aid Suspected as Culprit

As they try to meet the demands of a world on the threshold of some of humankind's most ambitious projects, engineering school officials throughout the nation are searching for an answer to the same question: Where are the students?

"I really don't know why, but our data show a trend toward reduction in the number of students graduating in the next four or five years," says Jim Johnson, acting dean of the Howard University School of Engineering.

He is among the legion of engineering educators who say they can point only to anecdotal evidence to explain why -- with engineering graduates reaching historically high numbers -- a steep decline in enrollments is occurring.

Overall, the number of freshmen enrolling in engineering programs fell from 92,700 in the 1992-93 academic year to 84,300 in the 1994-95 academic year, according to figures compiled by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME).

Even more worrisome is the decline in the number of Blacks, Hispanics and women in engineering programs, NACME president Dr. George Campbell says.

"It's very discouraging and could have calamitous results in terms of economic development for Black America," Campbell says.

Key Players

The reason for the dire implications has to do with the nature of the discipline, Campbell says. "Engineers are the engine of economic growth in the U.S.," he says.

He explained that engineers translate theoretical breakthroughs in science into applied technology. And, as the percentage of minorities earning engineering degrees climbed from 2.9 percent in 1973 to 8.5 percent in 1994, Blacks have shared in significant technological advances.

In the communications arena, for example, African Americans have been key players in the reduction in size and the increase in power of cellular telephones, Campbell noted, adding that the General Motors development team that forged the latest wave of automotive body design was headed by Blacks.

Engineering educators say they don't have the answers yet but, in recent interviews, agreed that the factors in the decline include:

- Low student motivation;

- Continued poor preparation by would be college students to compete at the college level;

- Reduction of jobs through corporate downsizing; and

- Shifts in the funding available for tuition assistance. …

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