While Brown notes that multiple factors
have contributed to these successes, he
says Utah “is a great example that investing
in growing engineering and computer
science education can lead to a healthy
In Washington, engineering dean
Michael Bragg is focused on some of the
same payoffs. The region is already a high-
tech powerhouse—with companies such as
Boeing, Amazon, and Microsoft—but state
universities can’t educate enough students
to fill positions.
For reasons the University of Washington
dean doesn’t fully understand, the state
ranks 49th in the nation in the production
Bragg says the state has increased
investment, which has allowed his university’s engineering enrollment to grow by
40%, but the school needs more help.
Interest in engineering majors at UW
Seattle has grown almost 50% over the
last five years, and only about a third of
interested freshmen can be accommodated
currently. The legislature and governor
are sympathetic—and Bragg is optimistic
about additional support—but there are
“The huge demand that is projected
for engineers isn’t sustainable if we can’t
supply it,” Bragg wrote in a Seattle Times
op-ed. “More state investment could help
loosen the bottleneck and provide life-
changing opportunities for Washington’s
young people and long-term benefits to
Companies nationwide want skilled engi-
neering graduates, while student interest
in the profession has grown. These factors
are fueling booms at engineering schools,
but institutions need help keeping up
Some public universities are turning to
state legislatures for help, even in an era
of budget tightening. The pitch: producing
more engineers is good economics.
In Kansas, where industry needed
more engineers to fill positions, legislation
enacted in 2011 aimed to boost graduates
from the state’s three public universities
by 60%. As a PE article explained, the state
provided funding even during a budget
shortfall because engineering drives
The University Engineering Initiative
Act provided $105 million in state funding
over 10 years, with a university match. The
Kansas Society of Professional Engineers
actively lobbied for the money, which helped
build new facilities and increased faculty.
Halfway through, the University of
Kansas’s engineering program has already
exceeded its goal and almost doubled its
B.S. graduates, according to dean Michael
Branicky, P.E. Those graduates have grown
to 499 from 255; the goal was 419 by 2021.
The growth has also driven an increase
in quality and diversity. Test scores and
grade point averages are up, says Branicky,
and percentages of women and underrepresented minorities have increased.
Causes are both internal and external:
New facilities have attracted students, and
engineering job placement rates also help.
Says Branicky: “There’s a lot of excitement
among faculty that things are happening.”
Companies are happy as well.
“Sometimes they say this is a great start,
because they want even more,” the dean
says. “We like that because it means they’re
seeing the ROI. That’s just a great story
with [the legislature].”
At the University of Utah, the boom in
engineering graduates has been part of a
push to grow well-paying tech jobs in the
state. The Engineering Initiative, estab-
lished by the state legislature in 2001,
aimed to triple engineering graduates.
So far, it has allocated $122 million to the
state’s engineering programs to hire and
retain faculty, develop new programs, build
and renovate facilities, and provide equip-
ment—with an equal university match.
According to Dean of Engineering
Richard Brown, the most significant result
of the funding, combined with vigorous
outreach, has been a growth in student
interest. “We do not have a pipeline
problem,” he notes.
Engineering graduates at the University
of Utah have increased from 366 in 1999 to
902 in 2016, with “no slowing in sight.”
Promises to the legislature tied to additional
funding requests have consistently been
exceeded. In 2015, state schools said they
would graduate another 250 engineering
students per year “and we actually gradu-
ated 657 more students,” says Brown. “It’s
a pretty easy sell to go back.”
And just like at the University of Kansas,
the larger numbers have driven an increase
in quality and diversity, Brown says.
In addition, the larger engineering workforce has attracted high-tech companies to
the state, as planned. That, in turn, creates
a need for even more engineers.
Employment at Utah high-tech companies has almost doubled in the last 10
years, Brown says, with the state topping
Business Insider’s list of fastest growing
tech states in the first half of 2016.
From 2005–15, the compound annual
growth rate of Utah GDP was almost twice
that of the US. And the Utah gross domestic
product has more than doubled since the
Engineering Initiative started.
Growing Engineering Schools Makes Cents
NEW FACILITIES AT THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH WERE AIDED BY THE ENGINEERING INITIATIVE AND STATE INTEREST
IN INVESTING IN ENGINEERING EDUCATION TO GROW UTAH’S HIGH-TECH ECONOMY.