Engineering programs face a changing world


MORGAN STATE University President Earl S. Richardson has taken a lot of grief over his refusal to allow other Maryland universities to move in on the academic territory he's staked out, sharing it only with the University of Maryland's flagship in College Park.

Those (including this newspaper) who argued 17 years ago against granting Morgan an exclusive franchise among public colleges in Baltimore in popular engineering fields, Richardson says, now "hypocritically" support the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in its bid for an undergraduate electrical engineering program.

The result, Richardson says, is that Morgan could be cast as the "culprit," then and now. "The more things change, the more they stay the same," Richardson says bitterly.

Here's what's changed and what hasn't:

In recent years, Morgan has graduated the majority of black electrical engineers in Maryland. Last year, the university accounted for 98 of the 167 bachelor's degrees in engineering received by blacks from Maryland institutions.

This is a remarkable record in an era of diminishing black representation in science and engineering. None of Morgan's -- or Richardson's -- critics disparages this considerable accomplishment.

The number of whites -- and the total number of students -- in traditional engineering fields has declined. The National Science Board warned Friday that a continuing admissions decline among graduate programs in science and engineering could lead to a shortage of skilled workers that could hurt the U.S. economy.

"Our biggest difficulty [in recruiting students] is highly qualified African-Americans and Latino-Americans," says Andrew S. Douglas, associate dean for academic affairs at the Johns Hopkins University, where the percentage of undergraduate African-Americans in engineering is in the single digits.

Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, says engineering traditionally has been the career of choice for first-generation Americans. "Guess what their children are going into," he says. "Business, medicine and the law."

What engineering has plenty of -- and this is a sea change since the state debated the issue in the early 1980s -- are non-American minority students and faculty. Since 1983, when the state opened the way for engineering at Morgan, schools have seen an influx of Asians, Africans and some Europeans into the field. At many schools, there are more foreign students than Hispanic- and African-Americans combined.

Although traditional engineering fields aren't drawing a crowd, enrollment in computer science and computer engineering is jumping off the charts, reflecting the world's electronic revolution.

In the three years since College Park added computer engineering to its electrical engineering department, the number of computer students jumped from 58 to 335. Computer engineering students at Hopkins now outnumber electrical engineering students.

In last week's column, I misrepresented what happened in 1983. State higher education officials did not move electrical engineering from UMBC to Morgan, as I wrote. Rather, they established electrical, civil and industrial engineering at Morgan, while UMBC got mechanical and chemical engineering and graduate studies in the electrical field. At first, the UMBC engineering school operated out of College Park, but eventually it became independent.

I'm sorry for the error.

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