Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, West Virginia University
Sarah N. Denman
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Marshall University
Provost and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs,
West Virginia University Institute of Technology
Jessika L. Thomas
Assistant to the Provost, West Virginia University
27 April 2007
We acknowledge the significant contribution of the Engineering Deans at West Virginia University, West Virginia University Institute of Technology, and Marshall University, Dr. Eugene Cilento, Dr. Larry C. Nottingham, and Dr. Tony B. Szwilski, respectively.
The West Virginia Consortium for Undergraduate Research and Engineering (CURE) was created by the West Virginia legislature in 2006 to increase West Virginia’s capacity for high quality engineering instruction and research; to increase access throughout the state to high quality instruction and research opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and to stimulate economic development throughout West Virginia by increasing the number of professional engineers available to business and industry. The ability of students to succeed in engineering programs at institutions of higher education is central to these objectives. For students to succeed, they must be properly prepared, and institutions must have sufficient resources to support engineering programs.
This report summarizes the current status of undergraduate engineering programs, students, and faculty at West Virginia University, West Virginia University Institute of Technology, and Marshall University. The report relies on each institution’s responses to a questionnaire and information available on their websites.
Engineering Education Engineering requires in-depth knowledge of mathematics and science to analyze and solve problems. In modern engineering, students innovate and transform scientific discovery for practical applications. Therefore, higher education institutions must provide students with the research skills to generate new knowledge, the skills to solve problems through existing knowledge, and the training to work in industries that draw on an engineering background.
In comparison to engineering, technology places more emphasis on utilizing existing technologies. The state needs graduates able to operate and maintain existing technology and graduates able to apply mathematical and scientific knowledge to engineering problems. WVU, WVU Tech, and Marshall address the state’s various needs through their different missions, programs, facilities, and faculty.
Engineering Education in West Virginia Public colleges and universities in West Virginia offer students the opportunity to major in standard engineering programs, including civil engineering, chemical engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. In addition, specialized programs such as aerospace engineering, mining engineering, and petroleum and natural gas engineering are available. (See Appendix 1 for a complete list of majors offered by each institution.) There are currently 2,569 students enrolled in undergraduate engineering programs at WVU, WVU Tech, and Marshall. Of this total, 2,092 students are enrolled at WVU; 332 at WVU Tech; and 145 at Marshall. (See Appendix 2 for more detailed information about student enrollment at each institution.)
Student Preparedness Engineering students encounter a rigorous first year at college, for which their high school experience may not have adequately prepared them. Students are expected to take challenging math and science courses, introductory courses for engineering, and general education courses. (See Appendix 3 for first-year student course schedules recommended at each institution.) High percentages of students do not return for the second year of engineering courses, a problem common in engineering programs across the country. On average, approximately 50% of students who enter engineering or pre-engineering programs as first-year students graduate with engineering degrees. (See Appendix 4 for attrition rates by institution and year.)
Representatives from WVU, WVU Tech, and Marshall have outlined the education necessary for students to succeed in undergraduate engineering programs and have identified a number of additional factors that inhibit student success. There is a consensus that high school courses often provide inadequate preparation for the rigorous mathematics and science courses required of engineering students. Students need more challenging math and science course work and to develop better study skills and work habits while they are in high school. (See Appendix 5 for the qualifications high school graduates should have to be prepared for undergraduate engineering programs at each institution.)
Student Retention Among students enrolled in undergraduate engineering programs, a number of factors contribute to the high number of students who elect to change majors or decide to withdraw from school. Erroneous expectations about the challenges and workload of engineering programs and frustration with the amount of time required for foundational coursework before students begin to work on engineering problems may contribute to student attrition. Responses from WVU and WVU Tech also suggest that students may enroll in engineering programs because of external or familial pressures, rather than the individual student’s interest, and may not remain in the program if they have the option to change majors. (See Appendix 6 for factors that prevent students from continuing in engineering programs.)
There is a national emphasis on increasing student retention and graduation in engineering programs, and each West Virginia institution is engaged in efforts to improve retention. Since many students encounter difficulty with the level of mathematics required in engineering, institutions offer math intervention, tutoring, or extra courses; they have increased the minimum ACT score and the level of high school math required for students to enter the programs; and/or they have developed different tracks for students according to their level in mathematics. To generate support networks and motivate students, programs seek to increase contact between faculty advisors and mentors, to involve first-year students in engineering clubs and organizations, and to increase students’ understanding of engineering through orientation courses and employment information. (See Appendix 7 for institution-specific lists of efforts to improve student retention.)
Alternative Engineering Education Some students who plan to major in engineering discover that they are more interested in or qualified for the application of engineering principles, which is taught in engineering technology programs. Students overwhelmed by the mathematical and scientific coursework required in engineering programs may thrive in a hands-on educational environment that teaches them to use engineering principles. WVU Tech collaborates with the WVU Tech Community and Technical College (CTC) to advise students about associate and baccalaureate engineering technology programs, which are accredited by TAC-ABET. Through this agreement, students enrolled at WVU Tech can easily transfer into engineering technology programs at the CTC. Accredited associate degree (AS) programs at the CTC include Electrical Engineering Technology, Mechanical Engineering Technology, Drafting and Design Engineering Technology, and Civil Engineering Technology. Students who earn these degrees can continue their education to earn TAC-ABET accredited baccalaureate (BS) degrees in Electrical Engineering Technology or Engineering Technology, which has several areas of emphasis. Transfer students have been very successful in completing these degrees and have attained immediate employment at high salaries. The job placement rate of engineering technology graduates of the CTC (both AS and BS) ranges from 90 to100 percent each year.
Engineering Program Collaborations Collaborations between institutions can reduce the overall amount of financial funding required to serve the needs of engineering students and programs across the state. Current collaborations between engineering programs in West Virginia include the WVU Tech Civil Engineering program (BSCE) at Marshall, the 4+1 Civil and Mining Engineering program with dual degrees granted by WVU Tech and WVU respectively; a 3+2 Physics and Mechanical Engineering program with dual degrees granted by WV Wesleyan and WVU respectively; and the engineering technology transfer program between WVU Tech and the WVU Tech CTC (described above). (See Appendix 8 for descriptions of individual collaborative programs in WV.)
One unique collaborative effort deserves special note. A statewide Engineering Transfer Group Agreement allows students in WV to earn an undergraduate engineering degree by transferring to WVU or WVU Tech after completing up to two years of coursework at one of ten other WV institutions. This program ensures a common curriculum for the first two years of the engineering programs and establishes course equivalencies so that credits transfer easily from participating institutions into engineering programs at WVU and WVU Tech. The statewide Engineering Transfer Group Agreement has been very effective at meeting the needs of engineering students across the state and could be expanded to include additional higher education institutions in WV. In order to maintain ABET accreditation, the degree-granting institution must be able to verify that the coursework completed by students prior to transferring is equivalent to the requirements at the accredited institution; consequently, final course review and approval is handled by WVU or WVU Tech. With additional funding this program could increase its services to meet state needs’ more effectively. (See Appendix 8 for a more detailed description of this collaborative program.)
Engineering Faculty Qualified faculty members are essential to the state’s ability to provide quality engineering programs. As of the fall of 2006, 142 full time, tenure track faculty members were employed by the state’s engineering programs: 113 at WVU, 22 at WVU Tech, and 7 at Marshall. An additional 84 employees work as non-tenure track faculty or researchers: 80 work at WVU, most as academic professionals; 1 is a visiting professor at WVU Tech; and 3 are adjuncts at Marshall. (See Appendix 9 for faculty by institution and department.) Additional hiring will be necessary to maintain and expand engineering programs in the state. WVU anticipates hiring 8 faculty members by 2008-09, WVU Tech 11, and Marshall 5, for a total of 24 faculty hires, 16 to replace faculty who resign or retire and 8 for new positions. The number of needed hires may increase since these projections do not include unanticipated resignations. (See Appendix 10 for potential hires by institution and department.)
Although the challenges to hiring desirable faculty members vary according to each institution’s mission and its expectations of faculty productivity, each West Virginia institution reports that low faculty salaries make it difficult to recruit new hires. Potential hires are also confronted with outdated teaching laboratories, limited computer resources, and/or inadequate research facilities. Because of the need to increase starting salaries in order to recruit new faculty, WVU and WVU Tech are also encountering salary compression or inversions, which decrease the morale of current employees. As Marshall’s program grows and additional hires are made, salary compression may become a problem there as well. (See Appendix 11 for specific concerns related to entry salaries, salary inversion, facilities, and start-up support at each institution.)
Conclusion The obstacles facing the state as a whole include preparing high school students for engineering programs, recruiting students to study engineering in the state, and strengthening support networks to increase graduation rates, but each institution also faces unique challenges. WVU identifies low faculty salaries as its most significant problem: in order to retain highly-qualified teaching and research faculty, the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources struggles annually to reduce salary compression. WVU Tech sees low student enrollment as its greatest obstacle, and the institution has been recruiting aggressively. In addition to increasing recruitment and retention in STEM programs, Marshall needs new faculty positions and equipment to build its engineering program. Each institution continues to seek grant funding to support its STEM efforts. (See Appendix 12 for descriptions of institutional efforts to address these challenges.)
Efforts to increase the recruitment and retention of students in the engineering programs at WVU, WVU Tech, and Marshall should be further enhanced. Developing a Governor’s STEM or Engineering Academy could enhance the educational preparation of high school graduates and students’ interest in entering engineering programs. The statewide Engineering Transfer Group Agreement could be expanded to provide more WV students the opportunity to earn an undergraduate engineering degree. Additionally, the collaborative relationship between WVU Tech and the WVU Tech CTC offers a model for preparing undergraduate students for employment in engineering fields if they depart traditional engineering programs. This transfer program could be replicated through collaborative agreements with both WVU and Marshall to allow engineering students the opportunity to transfer into engineering technology programs at the CTC. These collaborative programs would result in a greater number of graduates in the state with engineering backgrounds and would help fill the demand of the region’s businesses and industries for more technical graduates.
The state can be most effective in supporting engineering programs, students, and faculty by providing dedicated funding for salaries, building renovations, and equipment. Increased salary funding is clearly the primary request of all programs. In addition to providing annual raises, institutions need to be able to offer competitive salaries, prevent salary inversion, hire new positions, and provide administrative and technical support for engineering programs. (See Appendix 13 for each institution’s list of desired assistance from the state.)
Appendix 2: Students Currently Enrolled 1. Fall headcount enrollment of engineering students by program at WVU for 2003-2006.
General Engineering (freshmen)
Petroleum & Natural Gas Engineering
Note that the number of engineering majors at all levels by over 200 even though the number of freshmen has increased by only 80 over this period. This indicates increased retention rates in the engineering programs.
2. Engineering students by level and program at WVU Tech.