Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Here's an idea. The world is not exactly flat, yet.

Inside Higher Education writes this week about how we compare in engineering output to China and India. Yes, the now hackneyed battle cry for too many of our elected officials both informed and uniformed. As someone who is growing tired of hearing about how we are losing both the productivity and jobs race to India and China (I guess I grow tired easily but in education you start to hear things so many times you'd swear your iPod's shuffle algorithm needed help) this report from Duke comes as breath of fresh air. The report breaks the degree granting down in new ways. It looks at subbaccalaureate versus baccalaureate degrees and wisely breaks the numbers down on a per capita basis. A move any scientist worth her salt would make.

They report that in 2004 Americans earned 222,335 degrees in engineering, computer science and information technology; Indians earned 215,000 degrees; and the Chinese earned 644,106. They then consider quality (assuming a four year degree constitutes quality over a lesser degree). Over 290,000 of the Chinese degrees, and 103,000 of the Indian degrees are "subbaccalaureate." So close to half the degrees earned in both China and India are not baccalaureate degrees, whereas in the United States, 84,898 of the engineering degrees awarded were associate’s degrees, close to 38 percent. In terms of per capita degree earning, the United States awarded 758 degrees per million citizens. China awarded 497 degrees per million citizens, and India 199.

Now the real challenge is to determine if quality can really be measured by a baccalaureate versus subbaccalaureate approach. It's possible that a "lesser" degree is perfectly suited to training an engineer. The few engineers I know, however, have gone back to get Ph.D.s citing demands for more skills. If this is any indication, and I don't purport to know if it is, more education in a field like engineering might make for better engineers. Either way, this report is a fine way to reframe the debate... er... one-sided rant.


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