[This industry report showed an increase in people studying CS. The decrease was
achieved by selectively including fields where the job market is poor.]
New York Times
May 5, 1999
Report Indicates Decrease in High-Tech Degrees
By PAMELA MENDELS Bio
In recent years, technology companies have become a driving force
behind the robust U.S. economy, adding once undreamed of products,
wealth and jobs to the American landscape.
Now, a new report asks whether the American educational system can
continue fueling an industry based on mental prowess with the
brainpower it needs.
The report, "CyberEducation: U.S. Education and the High-Technology
Workforce," looked at both pre-college and university-level
education, and found both lacking. In junior and high school, the
report said, students still lag significantly behind their
counterparts in foreign countries when it comes to test scores in
mathematics and science.
That may be one explanation for the study's second assertion: In
recent years, the report found a decline of 5 percent in the number
of high-technology related degrees granted to students in the
"We could forfeit our pre-eminent position in technology if the
education system fails to produce the manpower to fuel the
industry," Michaela D. Platzer, the senior writer for the report,
said in an interview last week.
There is one big "but" to the statistics, Platzer and others say,
and that caveat helps paint a less worrisome picture about whether
the future workforce will be prepared for the jobs available.
Although there is an overall decline in the number of students
seeking technology-related degrees, some important fields, like
computer programming, have recorded big increases. At the same
time, universities are offering degrees in new technology-related
specialties -- and these may not be reflected in the numbers.
The study was sponsored by the American Electronics Association,
which, as a representative of 3,000 electronics and information
technology companies, is hardly a disinterested observer of how the
education system is training future employees, especially in a
tight labor market.
Representatives of technology companies are worried they may not be
able to fill desks.
Platzer, vice president of research and policy analysis for the
group, and the other study authors examined data from the U.S.
Department of Education and other sources. Among other things, they
looked at the number of degrees granted in six technology-related
areas from 1990 to 1996, the last year for which figures are
available from the federal government.
The six fields were engineering, engineering technology, computer
science, business information systems, mathematics and physics. The
total number of degrees conferred fell from 218,820 in 1990 to
207,684 in 1996, according to the study.
Another look at the Department of Education figures found similar
declines. Rolf Lehming, a program director at the National Science
Foundation, examined a slightly different combination of
technology-related degrees and found a drop of about 8 percent over
the same period.
For Platzer, the decrease is a cause for concern. "We believe the
technology-related fields are core to our industry and the future
growth of our industry," she said. "If there is not a cadre of
people out there with these kinds of skills, we could face serious
problems in the next century."
At the same time, she said, a close examination of the numbers
yields a more nuanced picture. In some sub-disciplines, for
example, there were large increases of graduates. Computer
programming degrees, for example, jumped 14 percent; degrees in
information sciences and systems increased 8 percent.
And declines in certain engineering specialties are easy to
understand. For example, the precipitous drop in degrees granted in
aerospace engineering could well reflect a dimmed job outlook for
the aerospace industry, at least during the late 1980s and early
Moreover, says Kenneth R. Laker, professor of electrical
engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and president of the
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the numbers
could also reflect shifts that are taking place in academia -- and
that work to the benefit of industry.
Laker noted, for example, that although there was an overall
decline in the six disciplines examined, one area recorded a marked
jump: business information systems, a category of degrees
indicating training in areas like data processing and information
systems design. Increasingly, he said, business and engineering
schools are working together to forge degree programs for all those
knowledge workers about to enter corporate life.
Internet links of interest to readers of the Education column
Join a Discussion on Technology in the Classroom
And there could be academically sound explanations for some of the
decreases, he said. The study found, for example, a steep drop --
22 percent -- in electrical engineering degrees granted. But Laker
said that at his school, many students are opting for a relatively
new degree in an area called computers and telecommunications
technology, a program that does not carry an electrical engineering
degree, but is heavy on electrical engineering training. "Some of
the traditional disciplines have melded together to form these new
fields," he said.
Whatever the explanation for the statistics, representatives of
technology companies are clearly worried that they may not be able
to fill their desks. Dennis S. Brewer, managing director of CNA
Engineering & Consulting Inc., an engineering design and systems
integration company based in Bellevue, Wash., says that his
company, which used to recruit employees only from the West Coast,
now conducts nationwide searches.
This may bode well for job candidates. Brewer says salaries in the
industry are fast out-stripping the rate of inflation. "We are
competing very hard for people, especially in information
technology," he said. "It's at the point where if you don't make a
job offer on the spot, you may get trumped the next day. Typically,
job candidates have five, six offers on the table."
But, he adds, in the long run the picture is not healthy. Already,
he says, his company of about 100 employees has had to turn down
projects because of a lack of staffing.
The EDUCATION column is published weekly, on Wednesdays. Click here
for a list of links to other columns in the series.
These sites are not part of The New York Times on the Web, and The
Times has no control over their content or availability.
* American Electronics Association
* National Science Foundation
* Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
Pamela Mendels at email@example.com welcomes your comments and