For top pay, major in engineering

Why aren’t more students pursuing engineering degrees, wonders Mark Bauerlein on Brainstorm. He links to a survey on the bachelor’s degrees that earn the top 10 starting salaries: Petroleum engineering starts at $86,220, followed by six other engineering specialties, computer science and information systems.

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  1. superdestroyer says:

    In looking at the comments at the Chronicle of Higher Education, one of the points missed is how Engineering and the sciences are heavily Asian. That means that white kids want nothing to do with engineering because they know how hard it is to compete with the Asian students who organize themselves along ethnic lines.

  2. Cranberry says:

    The ten majors demand facility in mathematics. They draw from the same small group of college students. The relatively new majors in information sciences and computer engineering increased the number of majors drawing from the same small pool.

    There are also consequences to sending jobs off shore. Employment for engineers can be a boom and bust phenomenon.

  3. I think the “Asian” line is hooey. There are lots of places in the US with negligible Asian populations, why wouldn’t those kids develop an interest in engineering. Cranberry is right that engineering jobs can by cyclic, but I think this depends on the actual discipline. Petroleum engineering jobs are probably a lot more volatile than electrical engineering jobs.

    The problem with these majors is that they’re HARD. You really have to work and have a true dedication or you’ll never make it. An EE major is up to his waist in higher math from the start and most of your classes build on each other, so that failing to keep up in one class just means you’re even worse off next semester when you take the next class in that subject.

    I’ll never forget one semester my junior year when I had 17 hours of courses: 14 in the Aero department and 3 in the Math department. I don’t think my mind has been stretched that hard at any other point in my life. I considered the C I pulled out in Diff EQ to be a personal triumph.

  4. superdestroyer, as a non-Asian someone who did an engineering degree in a school with a lot of Asian students, huh? I’m with Rob, just passing engineering school was enough of a problem for me.

  5. superdestroyer, are you just saying white kids are lazy, or are you saying something more?

  6. This whining by unemployed engineers is really tiresome – there is a LOT of that on the WSJ website. Having a degree doesn’t guarantee you a job. Being able to do the things that an employer needs does, but it means that once you’re out of school you have to work almost as hard at training yourself (and much harder at figuring out WHAT to learn) than you did in school.

    But if you do that reasonably well, in my experience it’s easy to stay employed, and it’s a great way to make a living. There is comparatively little BS in good engineering jobs, and they create identifiable value, so the best engineers are the last people to go if a company fails (and have no trouble finding another job).

    But it means that kids have to actually know some math before they go to college, as four years is barely time to cram all in what they need to learn to be prepared to be barely useful after they graduate in nearly in any field. I suspect that this automatically excludes at least 4/5th’s of public high school students.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Engineering is probably the most difficult 4 year degree to get. Too many US students don’t have the math background. Additionally, while starting salaries are great, the spread between entry and senior level salaries are not. Engineers often over-specialize, leaving them more vulnerable to long periods of unemployment later in life. Hence all the electrical engineers from Cal Tech and MIT that go into finance.

  8. Mark Roulo says:

    “Engineering is probably the most difficult 4 year degree to get. Too many US students don’t have the math background.”

    I think the difficulty is part of it, but not all.

    One other key item is that most high school students have tracked themselves *OUT* of an engineering program before they graduate from high school. This is because an engineering program starts with Calculus first quarter/semester of freshman year. If you did not take four years of real math in high school, you can pretty much forget about taking Calculus as a freshman, and thus can forget about engineering as a major (yes, in theory, you could take the pre-calculus math in college and *then* start the engineering program. As a practical matter almost no one does this).

    This high school level tracking is *NOT* true for things like pre-law. A bright kid who didn’t learn much of anything in high school can still decide it is time to start paying attention (and working) once college arrives and then do well.

    So … one good question would be: What percentage of college freshman are prepared to start taking Calculus? This establishes a practical upper bound for the population that can seriously consider engineering as a major. Then we can start subtracting from that the percentage that want to do other things (pre-med, pre-law, whatever …)

    -Mark Roulo

  9. Cranberry says:

    Consider the many complaints about devoting more class time to math and reading, though. If one wanted to prepare more students for college Calculus in freshman year, k-12 programs would need to beef up their math programs. It’s a question of time as well as curriculum. Which department should sacrifice class time? Should students learn more math and less history?

  10. I don’t think more class time is the major issue; I’d say that was curriculum and instruction. The fuzzy math (Everyday, Mathland, Trailblazers, CMP etc) is a disaster that dooms all but a minority – those few who can figure it out on their own and those who have parents/tutors to remediate. Discovery learning and groupwork compound the problem and are inefficient, as well. Explicit instruction by a teacher who knows the material makes a real difference.

  11. The notoriously family-unfriendly nature of engineering jobs is one of the big reasons why girls who are good at math & science avoid the field. Nearly all the girls I knew in high school who loved math & science wound up going into either a health profession or teaching. I can only think of one who became an engineer.

  12. Having worked in the IT field for almost 28 years, I can tell you that the field is usually geared towards persons who can usually put in 50-60 hour weeks on a regular basis (never mind the phone calls off hours).

    That being said, engineering isn’t a easy field to major in, and it shouldn’t be. The problem with students is when they look at the requirements for the degree (which included math usually through differential equations), and the boatload of engineering and science courses (including 3 semesters of physics), many students simply are NOT prepared academically to deal with the background of the courses, esp. if they didn’t have a good math prep in high school (4 years of math through at least algebra II/Trig and/or Pre-calc).

    The best paying is somewhat relative as well. I’ve been able to make a good living in a technical field, but I’ve also had to pay in other ways. When you have a family, it is much harder to choose fields which take a large portion of your time away from them (i.e. – the military, and they don’t get paid nearly enough for what they do).

    If students want to major in engineering, I would recommend that while they are in high school, pay a visit to an engineering firm to see what it entails, ask questions, necessary skills, etc. They might find out that it can be an enjoyable career, but it will require a lot of work on their part.

  13. Is engineering really more family-unfriendly than, let’s say, field sales…which often requires travel several days a week? Or law, in which the demands for billable hours are notorious? Or, for that matter, nursing, which often involves shift work?

  14. superdestroyer says:

    When a white kid is thinking about a career in eingineering and takes AP calculus in high school, the white kid will probably end up in a class dominate by Korean, Chinese, Indians, etc. When they visit a school like Virginia Tech, Purdue, Georgia Tech, they will see that the engineering classes are overwhelmingly Asian.

    If the suburban white kid want to complete his degree in Computer engineering, they will have to give up the idea of partying, joining a fraternity, or going to the football games because their fellow Asian student do not waste time doing those things.

    Talk to most engineers and they went through college scared of failing and do not have a lot of fond memories.

    All the white kids have laready learned by the end of freshmen year is that a class full of Asians is going to be a hard class but a class full of sorority sweaters is going to be an easy class.

  15. If high school students want to get an eyeful of an interesting video clip on college in general. Google this:

    “Is college a ripoff – John Stossel”

    Every parent of a high school age student should watch this before even applying at a college.

  16. The myth of the high engineering pay is that it doesn’t translate into long term financial success. More than likely you are stuck at that pay level for your entire career with meager inflation bumps and most kids don’t want a job for life anymore. They want the rapid move up the ladder which is the reason for the explosion in business degrees.

    Engineering was the way to get into the middle class back in the day. Once there, people were more than satisfied with staying there. Kids today, don’t want to “stay” anywhere.

    Employers keep touting the myth that there are not enough smart kids going into engineering. They need to break out the old economics textbooks because until they make the jobs more satisfying to this generation and more valuable long term, they supply just isn’t going to be there.

    If these were great, high paying desirable jobs, kids would be falling all over themselves to get an engineering degree. (or sadly if there was a very popular CSI-like show about the exciting engineering life)

  17. Therese says:

    Amazingly, as a white female electrical engineer, I have been able to find a decent, 40 hr a week, family friendly engineering job. But I am lucky. The electrical engineering field is always laying off people – I think there have been rounds of layoffs at least every other year in every company I have worked for since 1982. I would be very wary of going into this field now. Every month my company is shifting jobs overseas each chance they get for a little bit of savings. I just hope I can hang onto my job for another 10 years.
    Engineers by nature are looking for career stability. If the companies doen’t supply the job security, then the type of people they need will chose other careers.
    Getting through engineering school is not fun – but for those of us that manage to stick with it, we’d all rather do a set of calculus problems that write a term paper!


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