Higher educationRise in the number of U.S. students majoring in engineering

Published 9 November 2009

Engineering schools are seeing a surge of interest, spurred in part by reports that engineering grads earn higher starting salaries than their classmates

There are electrical and software engineers behind iPhone apps, and chemical and mechanical engineers behind she smart cars and hybrids. With more than thirty disciplines — ranging from audio to biomedical to forensic engineering — the engineering field has interest and enrollment up among the college-bound set.

Miami Herald’s Idy Fernandez writes that it is not just the field’s diversity which is attracting them: Recent reports show that college grads with engineering degrees have higher starting salaries than their peers in other fields.

New enrollment in North American computer science and engineering programs rose 8 percent during the 2007-8 school year from the year before, according to the Computing Research Association, a trade group for about 200 university computing departments.

At Florida International University, there are now 2,800 undergraduate students and more than 700 graduate students enrolled in the school’s College of Engineering and Computing. At the University of Miami, last year’s College of Engineering enrollment included 705 undergrads and 197 graduate students.

“`I think people are becoming more aware of the incredible diversity of disciplines,” says Dr. Cheri Stabler, an assistant professor in UM’s departments of Biomedical Engineering and Surgery.

“It’s not just building engines or bridges, it is also things like developing `green’ energy alternatives, creating tools to deliver clean water to underdeveloped countries and creating medical devices that have the potential to save millions of lives.”

Dean Amir Mirmiran of FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing says the new economy’s back-to-basics emphasis is reviving interest in engineering. “The economic downturn has made us turn away from some of the other fields that have been on the rise in the past; now people are going back to what really is the bottom line: production,” Mirmiran says.

Earlier this year, a report from PayScale found that “in general, engineering schools produced the best starting salaries and represented eight out of the top 10 schools in starting salaries.” On average, engineering grads earn $40,000 to $60,000 within the first five years of graduation, according to the report.
Traditionally a male-dominated field — only about 14 percent of engineers are women — engineering is starting to attract more females, says James Tien, dean of UM’s College of Engineering. Within the past year, UM has hired