Is the ordinary college education the best route to become an engineer? Some no longer think so, as tuition costs have skyrocketed over the last several decades while quality of education has decreased, manifested in the rise of postmodernism in academia and a growing fraction of college courses devoid of educational value. The engineering education problem can be approached as we do other problems: first define it and then seek alternative solutions.
As an E.E. Oregon State U. graduate of 1972, I paid about $1500 1968 US dollars for tuition, books, and room-and-board for my freshman year and about $2500 for my senior (1972) year. A friend of mine at the same time who went to MIT paid about $5000 per year. A class of ’72 MIT E.E. would have consequently paid about $20,000 for a BSEE-level education. This could be paid back in about 2 to 3 years by a debt-averse engineer. Today, one can easily expect to pay $40,000 to $60,000 (or much more) for an undergraduate education. Though intervening wages have also increased, they have not kept pace with college costs, and payback time has extended.
A subtle but pervasive side-effect on youth leaving home and going to college is the intellectual and moral milieu of academia. Like the firemen who went around starting fires in Ray Bradbury’s story, Fahrenheit 451, the schools are yet another American institution in which one can find an inversion of original purpose. While engineering and the physical sciences are not as subject to the propagandizing and mind-fogging effects of some other study choices, college environments nowadays tend to mold students into an anti-intellectual mind-set that irrationally fails to distinguish (or “discriminate”) between incompatible systems of thought, and pressures acceptance of them all (though incompatible) as “tolerance” and “diversity”. Put simply, the mainstream-education buyer is given no real choice regarding what is bought. To find product differentiation one must move outside the box of Establishment academia.
I do not need to make an extended argument to most engineers about the absurdity that much of academia has become. Some clear-headed professors have already made the point in a few succinct quotes at the World Wide Web server on the Pegasus machine, the departmental web server for the University of Central Florida..
From this site, I offer in passing a couple of quotes that gives its flavor. In ProfScam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education (St. Martin's Press, 1989), Charles Sykes writes, quoting another book making the same point:
The use of jargon, obfuscating convolutions and “nebulous verbosity,” Stanislav Andreski noted in his classic The Social Sciences as Sorcery, “opens a road to the most prestigious academic posts to people of small intelligence whose limitations would stand naked if they had to state what they have to say clearly and succinctly.” Andreski proposed a formula of his own: Verbiage increases to the extent that ambition exceeds knowledge.
In the abovementioned book, Andreski also wrote:
Possessing only a very approximate and tentative knowledge, mostly of the rule-of-thumb kind, and yet able to exert much influence through his utterances, a practitioner of the social sciences often resembles a witch-doctor who speaks with a view to the effects his words may have rather than to their factual correctness; and then invents fables to support what he has said, and to justify his position in the society.
The readiness to assume that everything that one does not understand must be nonsense cannot fail to condemn one to eternal ignorance; and consequently, the last thing I would wish to do is give encouragement to lazy dim-wits who gravitate towards the humanistic and social studies as a soft option, and who are always on the lookout for an excuse for not working. So, it is tragic that the professiorial jargon-mongers have provided such loafers with good grounds for indulging in their proclivities.
Though with some effort one can find exceptions to Andreski’s point, it is nevertheless likely to resonate a chord or two among engineers who have experienced the truth of it. But enough said of the characteristics of the problem. How can it be solved? Given that the above malaise is wide-spread in government and Establishment academia, we will need to be creative and broaden the scope of our solution search to outside of this “box” of the present suboptimal solutions for achieving an engineering education.