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Monday, August 11, 2008

Lack of Technological Innovators Threatens Michigan

A sharp decline in engineering-school enrollments in Michigan will have an adverse effect on the state's economy and also threatens the long-term recovery of the US domestic auto industry.

"In the past six years new engineering enrollments at Michigan universities have plummeted by more than 13 percent compared to a nine percent increase nationally," says Leo Hanifin, dean of the University of Detroit's College of Engineering and Science. "In Michigan, this precipitous drop is clearly linked to layoffs and poor performance within the domestic auto industry."

Hanifin says that the United States is facing a crisis in the development of engineering talent.

"Forty-five percent or more of all Chinese college students currently study engineering compared to just 4.5 percent in the United States," he says. "Nationally, low enrollments at engineering schools are tied to poor high-school preparation and low interest levels, especially among women and minorities."

Speaking at a major automotive conference in Traverse City on Monday, Aug. 11, Hanifin says that studies indicate that 80 percent or more of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the introduction of new technologies, adding that "engineers are essential for
technological innovation."

He says factors that will contribute to the nation's shrinking pool of engineering talent include:

-- Massive retirements among "baby boomer" engineers,
-- A general drop in the number of college-age students,
-- Fewer foreign engineering students studying in the United States,
-- Fewer foreign students choosing to remain here after graduation, and
-- Increased global competition for technical talent.

"More and better-educated engineers are needed if our nation and its auto industry are to thrive or even survive," he says. "The problem of low engineering enrollments can only be solved by decisive action that includes changes in public policy and national programs, as well as increased collaboration within the educational community, government and the private sector."

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