American colleges awarded more than 97,000 bachelor’s degrees in engineering between 2014 and 2015, according to research from the National Center for Education Statistics. This marked the seventh straight year of engineering degree gains. As technological development intensifies, this figure is likely to increase. However, many future engineering students may not take the same educational pathways as their predecessors, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers reported.
Last month, Stanford University Professor James Plummer, Ph.D., and former dean of the university’s School of Engineering, opened the IEEE Vision, Innovation and Challenges Summit with an address on the future of engineering education. Plummer touched on multiple instructional currents with the potential to affect how engineers of the future learn and engage with industry innovations.
The Next Generation of Engineers Will Require Just-In-Time Knowledge and Lifelong Training
The engineering professor’s first bold prediction centered on master’s programs, which granted over 46,000 degrees between 2014 and 2015, according to the NCES. Plummer believes these post-graduate tracks will disappear in the near future as students embrace cheaper online alternatives that are easily updated to match ever-changing industry standards.
“Instead it will be about lifelong education and just-in-time knowledge, and that will be done online,” he explained.
Undergraduate Programs Go “Soft”
While undergraduate engineering programs are likely to remain in place, many will undergo fundamental changes, according to Plummer. The professor argues that modern bachelor’s tracks are overly focused on technical skills and leave the teenagers who embark on them burned out, resulting in high dropout rates.
Plummer advocated broadening engineering education to include more liberal arts exposure and more soft skills and life skills, with the aim of preparing future engineers for unpredictable careers. Engineers will need communication skills, the ability to work in teams, global knowledge, and an entrepreneurial outlook as much as they will need technical depth, he said.
Continuing Education Gains Ground
Workplace training initiatives are on track to replace postgraduate engineering programs, Plummer told the crowd assembled for his speech at the IEEE event last month. Why? The industry continues to grow at a breakneck place, meaning many new graduates enter the workforce with knowledge that is functionally obsolete.
“Careers are becoming global and unpredictable,” Plummer explained. “Lifelong learning is essential. The half of life of engineering knowledge is three to five years.”
If the engineering professor’s predictions come to pass, employers will play a larger part in training the next generation of engineers, giving them the resources they need to excel in the profession.