By YANAN CHEN
Capital News Service
LANSING—The number of students who earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering is declining while those in health-related majors is increasing dramatically at public universities, according to the House Fiscal Agency.
During the past six years, the number of undergraduate students in Michigan’s 15 public universities who earned bachelor’s degree in engineering majors dropped 4.4 percent.
At the same time, the number in health-related majors increased 76 percent.
The House Fiscal Agency is a nonpartisan office that advises the House on budget and tax issue.
Its figures show that the most popular majors are business-related, which increased 4.2 percent in six years.
“Health-related majors are the second most-popular majors on the chart — engineering ranked fifth,” said Kyle Jen, the agency’s higher education budget analyst.
Health-related majors include allied health, communication disorders science, nursing and 30 others.
There were 975 seniors in Michigan Technology University’s Engineering College in 2009, and the number declined to 955 in 2010.
The number of engineering seniors between 2004 and 2008 was 937, 917, 906, 955 and 962.
“You can see from the statistics that the number goes down and up from 2004 to 2008. Although it changed, it remained stable,” Michigan Tech engineering Dean Timothy Schulz said.
“The number dropped slightly during the past year,” Schulz said. “It is about a 4 percent drop.
“I’m not very concerned about that,” he said, because the difference is not significant.
If the number keeps dropping, “the thing I am worried about is the state’s competitiveness because engineers are masters at solving technical problems, and that’s why we educate students. If the number keeps dropping, it will harm the state’s competitiveness.”
At Western Michigan University, engineering Professor Edmund Tsang, the associate dean for undergraduate programs and assessment, said, “Since 2007, the enrollment number of engineering undergraduate is going up steadily.
“The good reputation of our engineering program attracts students to come and study here,” said Tsang.
Although in some public universities, the number of engineering students is declining, the demand for engineering positions is still increasing.
The Michigan Labor Market Information forecasts that in 2018, there will be 4,820,640 architecture and engineering employees, which will be up 5.6 percent from 2008.
Bruce Weaver, an analyst for Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, said, “The average openings for architecture and engineering will total 135,894 each year and it will grow by 32,192 each year.
“Take civil engineering positions for example. It will have a 20 percent growth from 2008 to 2018 and the annual average openings will be 230,” he said.
As for growing enrollment in health-related majors, Mary Alkire, interim director of school of nursing at Ferris State University, said, “We have 64 undergraduate applications but we only can only accept 32 students.
“This trend shows students’ interests in nursing programs,” she said. “And the other reason is that some countries have a shortage of nurses and they have great demand on them now and in the future.”
“The increasing number of students is a good thing for us,” Alkire said.
“There are two reasons for the popularity of health related majors,” said Jeanette Klemczak, the chief nurse executive for the Department of Community Health.
“First is because the aging population in Michigan keeps growing. We have 100,000 people who are over age 55 and they need more nurses for home care, hospital care and other care. That’s a very good demand for professionals in health,” Klemczak said.
“The second one is that even the younger citizens are not very healthy. Some citizens have Type 2 diabetes as young as in kindergarten. They need more health care. And 50 percent of nurses will be retired in the next 10 years, so we need more students,” she said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.