August 16, 2004 5:45 PM PDT

Many engineers lack a four-year degree

More than one-fifth of U.S. science and engineering workers do not have a bachelor's degree, according to a new report from the National Science Foundation.

Of the more than 1 million workers without bachelor's degrees, 5 percent hold high school diplomas and 17 percent hold associate's degrees, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF) report, which was based on data from the April 2003 Current Population Survey.

This news comes as some observers warn that the United States needs to focus more on training scientists and engineers. The number of science and engineering doctorate degrees produced in the United States dropped from 27,300 in 1998 to 24,550 in 2002. And that figure may decline further, given that fewer educational visas are being issued and fewer international candidates are applying to graduate schools. Typically, international students earn a large portion of tech-related doctorates at U.S. schools.

On other hand, NSF data shows that graduate enrollment in science and engineering programs reached a record of nearly 455,400 students in fall 2002, up 6 percent from 2001. And a recent report from the Rand think tank found no evidence of shortages of scientific, technical, engineering and mathematics personnel in the U.S. work force since at least 1990. The report also said it did not find evidence that such shortages are on the horizon.

The new NSF report breaks out data for several specific fields: In computer and math science, holders of high school diplomas and associate's degrees make up approximately 40 percent of employees. In engineering, 20 percent of workers have less than a bachelor's degree. The proportions are much smaller (10 percent or less) for occupations in the life, physical and social sciences.

When it comes to academic qualifications, male and female science and engineering workers are represented in about the same proportions; that is, slightly more than one-fifth of men and women employed in those fields do not have bachelor's degrees.

The study also looked at engineering workers by race and ethnicity, finding that 6 percent for Asia-Pacific Islanders do not have bachelor's degrees, 34 percent of blacks do not, nor do 37 percent of Hispanics.


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so- a piece of paper doesn't replace real world experence
Im a engineer for a dsl company I have a two year degree, I have talked to mcse or other people with engineering degrees and they dont know half of what I know. I've learned in the real world not in scenaro based lab where the teach 60% irrelevent to working in the IT MIS field.

Also have a friend that goes to ITT in florida and he has not learned anything in relation to working in the field, but they sure shove useless trig and calc down his throat.

Posted by cpudrewfl (56 comments )
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Your Argument Is Ridiculous
With all due respect, I think your argument is ridiculous. You contradict yourself by saying that you have a 2-year degree however, in general, degrees are a waste of time. You're arguing with yourself.

Ever heard of Cisco, Yahoo, Sun Microsystems, or Google? All of these are groundbreaking companies which led to the creation of entire new industries. And all of these companies (and many others) were founded by university students or graduates (Stanford, in this case) -- pursuing higher degrees.

A 4-year technical degree is a proven, fundamental building block. To argue that these are useless or meaningless is the same as saying that you dont need air. Yup, that oxygen is for wimps.
Dont make me laugh.

In the last ten years, Ive hired and worked with countless engineers. From this, Ive found that an individuals education (in their field) generally determines their overall value. A 4 or 6 year degree typically provides a candidate with not only important technical skills, but also technical conceptualization, social skills and communication skills.

In general, a higher degree makes an employee more valuable. That is the reality.
Posted by (7 comments )
Link Flag
A misleading study
A Bachelor's Degree, although advantageous, represents the knowledge obtained based upon a 4-year curriculum that was planned by the appropriate Institution at least 1 year prior to that. Employers, especially the HR Divisions, need to be aware of technology and standards based upon today and not upon a Bachelor's Degree issued based upon yesterday's technology. Employers should also study the value of Certifications and what they mean to their respective industries. Employers should also take a hard look at what they're getting for their dollar-if they want to pay $10.00 an hour for a Support position, they should not expect applicants with a Bachelor's to apply. The title of this article is 'Many engineers lack even a four-year degree'-evaluate the pay these engineers receive and you'll understand why the lack of those with four-year degree exists.
Posted by vaporware4U (18 comments )
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Who cares?
Aren't they being off-shored anyway?

You don't need a diploma to flip a burger or clean the toilets (both jobs which are IMPOSSIBLE to off-shore!)
Posted by Tex Murphy PI (165 comments )
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Ditto ... Who cares?
I know more then a few HS kids that could and can run rings around people who have a 4 year in CS. I've seen what is taught in 4 year universities and anyone with real world experience and frankly even the ones who received their training in trade schools can run rings around these folks. They are trained in the art of theory and have next to no experience in real world implementation. I consider these people one step up from MCSEed people. Great on paper. Lousy in the real world.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
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OK I realized I might not have been clear on my point. Specifically people with a 4 year degree in CS dont do very well in typical mundane helpdesk jobs. Ive work with such people who dont know how to trouble shoot an issue worth a dang.
On the other hand higher end jobs like IP analyzing and the like. Yes, in such places a can see a real use for a CS diploma. Where the technical level is higher.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Link Flag
College is not the only place to get knowledge
I am really tired of this academic snobbery that the press and Colleges seem to spread out to the masses. I challenge anyone, anywhere to prove that someone cannot achieve any level of skill, ability, or knowledge without going to college and having a degree. People can and do learn every day. They can't. The fact is that people can do the job without any degree. They can learn new skills on their own, and frankly know them better than any college graduate, because they learned them by doing in lieu of lecture.
Posted by richj120 (6 comments )
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I can think of a few people who have had a greatimpact on society with little or no formal education, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison. If you are curious and a hard-worker, you can get buy without an expensive degree. I like the line from _Good_Will_Hunting_ about dropping $150K on a degree you could get for a $1.50 in late fees at the local library (albeit, he was referring to a social science degree from Haavad.)
Posted by (45 comments )
Link Flag
Whether you like it or not
A degree now a days more than ever is needed to advance in this world. Where the economy is like this, the competition for jobs is tough. Unfortunately even lower paying jobs like support personel are requiring degree. A degree doesn't show how smart you are but it does show a certain amount of dedication. Not everyone can make it thru 4 years of school.
Posted by (1 comment )
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Excellent point
Degrees - though sometimes superfluous, are also a good indicator of a person's:

1) Ability to stick things through to completion.
2) Ability to prioritize and plan ahead.

Not that this means that others are less in these areas, but it does present it better.

Additionally, some sciences are very theoretical, and are the required foundations for technical breakthroughs to occur.

With the United States producing less graduates, the chances of the next "big breakthrough" coming from the US will diminish. This will in turn weaken our ability to compete in the global economy.
Posted by Tex Murphy PI (165 comments )
Link Flag
Another article to tell us how bad we suck.
Don't even listen to this article. This is a ploy to tell us how we aren't training our engineers, and that's why the jobs are going overseas. The truth is, many of our country's engineers are unemployed or underpayed.

This is just another article to try to convince the non-techies that outsourcing isn't so bad by saying how bad we suck.
Posted by lewissalem (167 comments )
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Make state schools more accessible
While schools like Uni of phoenix and the like fill a very important role, they are very expensive. In my area it's impossible to get any sort of science/engineering degree without attending school during the day, thereby making it impossible to hold down a regular job and raise a family at the same time. I finally forced a university to stop advertising that you could get a CS degree there in night school because they never taught all the required courses at night.
Give us some realistic, affordable options and you will find many willing and even eager to get these degrees.
Posted by mmormando (40 comments )
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is it any wonder
Is it any wonder that fewer might apply for a tech degree when US business has made it perfectly clear such workers are treated as throw-a-ways, and projects sent to the lowest bidder (regardless of quality). I didn't get my degree to be a temp worker...
btw-the degree has been very important in my career.
Posted by jim_from_nc (2 comments )
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I do not have a sheepskin
I get $150 per hour and turn away more clients than I can take and still work 190 hours a month.
So I don't see the point.
Education is no sub to experiance.

BB West
Posted by Flushls (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A Degree is only worth something to a recruiter...
I have no degree (though I have about 120 college credit hours), but I do have 5 years of technical expirience (both programming and systems administration - mainly security oriented). What I have found is that while a degree is important in getting you through the HR department's screening process, they are the only ones who seem to care. Usually, the person doing the hiring, or making the position available, understands that a degree means nothing in terms of actual knowlege or skills. As has been mentioned by many some other people in their comments, I have seen many people with a 4 year degree who are clueless when it comes to actually doing anything - the true, though highly unlikely story that comes to mind is the applicant with a 4 year degree and an MCSE who applies for a systems administration job - and then does not know how to use a mouse.

In the programming filed in specific, what I have seen is that there are essentially two types of "programmers". The first type - and the type that mostly comes out of four year institutions - is the type of p[erson who may know a single, or evena couple, programming languages extremely well, to the point that they have everything about those languages memorized, but only for the version that they learned in school. These people are the ones who have no innate understanding of computers, and simply do everything as they were taught.
The other type of programmer, and the group of which I consider myself, is more reminicent of the "hackers" of old (when hacing was considered good programming) who though they might need a command reference to program in a language, have the innate understanding of computers to be able to pick up almost any programming language or application in a matter of days, if not hours.

I guess my point in this rant is that many times a company will hire based just on a degree and an application - when what they should be looking at is actual skillsets. Perhaps they should also keep in mind that even a paper test is close to useless - the best test is to give the applicant a goal to meet, and see what he comes up with. This is true in both administration and programming. If it is a programming position, give him a set of requirements - "I want the program to do this, and in must be in that languge", etc. If it is administration, give him a real world problem to solve - say, coming up witha redundant network topology for specific requirements, or proposing his solution for an authentication program. These ideas are practical, and give a MUCH better understanding of the applicant then a degree, or a resume - both of whichy we all know can be essentially bought or created.
Posted by ethics (2 comments )
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Real World Problems
To Nick's opinion: Hear, Hear!!

I have interviewed a number of engineering candidates, all with 4 yr BSEE or better, all with > 3.0 out of 4.0 GPA's, over a number of years ( > 25 yrs). What I find out of that grouping is that about 1 out of 8 has any clue as to how to solve what I call a "real world" problem. By that I mean one where the problem is not formally structured like a college exam, rather it involves culling through the noise present in the real world, seeing what is important and knowing what not to waste energy on. This ability also knows how to go get the information needed to solve the problem, rather than relying on taking the next university course on the subject, because there might not be any such course yet. In fact, if the problem is really worth solving, in my experience it will be worth solving because there ISN'T any course on the subject yet.

To my way of thinking, a lot of "real world" problems that are cutting edge don't require any university level formal education at all.
Posted by (15 comments )
Link Flag
Lower pay requires less education
How do you expect people to pay for four years of college on what most of these jobs pay? Anyone with a degree is driven out of the field to a more rewarding career.

Companies can cut costs by reducing the educational requirements of their jobs. Of course in cutting costs, they are actually cutting sales as well since the largest users of technology are other technologists. Thus, the tech industry is working hard to put itself out of business. Can't say it is much of a loss.
Posted by MyLord (34 comments )
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Are they really engineers?
A common misconception by many in our society is who can legally claim the title "engineer" and when. Many who make their living working with technology are not by definition engineers. Of those who truly do engineering work, only those who have passed state licensing exams can claim the title of engineer outside the context of their employer. A full explanation can be found in the article, "What Do You Mean I Can't Call Myself a Software Engineer?" by John R. Speed
(<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>).

I have some fifteen years of real-world experience, most of it in aerospace, and I want to respond to a few of the comments made here. Full disclosure: my current job title is "embedded software engineer," but only when I am working for my employer - I am neither a licensed Professional Engineer nor a Certified Software Development Professional (<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>).

Yes, I have met and worked with some exceptional computer professionals that did not have a 4-yr college degree in computer science, but they are just that - the exception. I have also had to clean up a few messes made by amateurs (i.e. self-taught) who believed they knew everything they needed to know.

Engineers learn trig and calculus (as well as many other fundamental math, science, and engineering subjects) not only as a body of core knowledge, but also to hone problem solving skills. Yes, in college I wrote some programs in Cobol, PL/1, and IBM 370 assembly language, but in the process I learned basic principles of computer science that transcend the application programing language used for each lab exercise. A good engineering school continually seeks to update their course catalog to stay both relevant technically and competitive with other schools, but satisfying accreditation requirements always necessitates some lag between what is current and what is taught in the classroom.

An engineer that stops learning ceases to be an engineer, i.e. the "book learning" doesn't end with the award of a diploma. Technology in general has been a moving target for a long time. An engineer understands this and takes it upon himself to continue to learn about new technologies and their application throughout her entire career.


Curt Schroeder
M.S. Computer Science (because I can't call myself an engineer in this context)
Posted by C.Schroeder (126 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Thanks for using your intelligence
From your job description, it is possible we work for the same company. I appreciate your honest appraisal, and agree with you on many points. There are pools of talent, those with degrees, and those with intuitive and practical technical knowledge. It saves unnecessary loss of time and resources when these people form a TEAM. Not many people understand this concept. There is no place for ego-centrism in a real work environment.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Isn't it funny.....
Isn't it funny to see the people who claim that a degree isn't important are also suggesting that the future is in flipping burgers?

LoL.. I have 2 degrees, and they have both been beneficial in securing a good-paying job in IT. Not only that, but I feel secure in my job and have complete confidence that it will not be offshored. Why? Because some IT jobs cannot be done outside this country, and those jobs will be filled by the most qualified individuals.

I wouldn't trade either of my degrees for an additional 4 years of experience. No way. The higher-level IT jobs are the ones sticking around, and a great many of them require a graduate degree for consideration.

It only makes sense that IT professionals without degrees are the first ones to be outsourced. For them, perhaps flipping burgers is the future. A few years in school and a diploma can indeed make a difference.

Decrying education benefits has never been an intelligent position.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
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Your True Worth
In many respects every reply to the article has merit and the frustration with what is obviously a bad system, a depressed culture, and a lack of any leadership or even a next step is entirely justified. Nevertheless, our ability to compete globally motivated by optimism and that creative drive to code, architect, refactor, or otherwise engineer amongst a community of our peers is what everyone of us has been denied and more than the decline or increase in PhD's, the relevancy or pointlessness of an education, this inability to feel any sort of hope, optimism, or faith in the system or our work has utterly ruined our ability to create for the sake of having a true interest in excellence.

The frustration and obvious stupidity of incredibly irrelevant if not demoralizing hiring practices, moronic reviews that make no sense to all parties, arbitrary budgets we know are rigged because we are forced to participate in skewing the numbers. Doing what simply feels stupid, counterproductive, and pointless for less money every year because it was done to us makes the lack of a degree or too much education entirely trivial.

There have been too many Enron executives, WorldCom scandals, errant Priests, and idiotic reality TV shows screaming a simple message loud and clear: stupid, dishonest, corrupt Americans are rich without working or serving a day in jail. So, why would any person having the sense to even find this article every pursue a very intriguing yet often very difficult trade? Why Engineering or Computer Science or simple old software programming when a good smile and a well-crafted lie in cooperation with a few good friends generates that saving grace entitled Sarbanes-Oxley? Every single Engineer, educated formally or informally, has the analytical ability to ascertain when they are being screwed. Just like the guy who changes our oil or rings up the Big Gulp at the carry out.
We can argue all day about why all of us are just a little angry, a little bit more than pissed, and toss out all those justifiable, sarcastic comments as to why only a moron would spend a day in school or even take shots at each other for being on one side or the other. In the end, as naive as it sounds, our work, in particular, engineering, has to offer something more than a paycheck that can be stolen, a job that is as good as a number that is a line-item budget item, or that betrayed feeling that Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and even Saudi Arabia takes precedence over an honest American doing a hard days work. In the fourteen years I have worked it seemed like that was there and everyone felt it even with the stupid politics, titles, and occasional corporate scandal. For my part I have felt and empathize with every comment made in reply to this article yet recognize we are putting down ourselves, tearing down our achievements, and fighting to stay pissed off when we are the ones who have the talent, intelligence, and skills to take back the right to enjoy or work and get paid for our contribution not whether we missed the f%&#38;#$&#38; company picnic the former CEO who stole our pensions failed to attend.

There are a lot of valid points on both sides but the frustration, angst, and lack of respect for hard work and talent is the common thread. I am all for education and I also own around 200 Oracle, Java, Solaris, UNIX, MySQL, PHP, etc. books as well as an elaborate home LAN. I have a BS in Finance and Accounting and a graduate degree is CS and from where I am standing the guy on "Extreme Dating" and, forget the two-party system and labels, the current President, skipped it all including the self-study, which is just as valid, and that with all the rest provides the most poignant message of all: lying, cheating, and stealing is as American as apple pie and only a sucker puts in a hard days work.

I was offered Director at a major airline more than six years ago and turned it down because I KNEW I needed more hands-on IT experience. I haven't worked for an IT Manager since that could open an email, unzip a file, or schedule a conference room and, funny thing is, they didn't seem to be too worried...but all the while they had us arguing this same old BS.

The problem isn't outsourcing, degrees, or all the rest. They have smart guys arguing about who has the better title or the right degree or who gest the 3% raise next year. You are the talent, your boss has no legitimate authority outside of what he has earned. If they have earned it then fine. Otherwise, you have the right to be respected and paid for your expertise, hard work, and skills. So keep posting messages but let's make it about the bosses, the Fastow's, and have at it...and don't be surprised when you get what you want and deserve because without you they can't outsource nor "manage" their organization. Without the engineers, degree or no degree, self-taught or highly educated, they are nothing and that should be painfully obvious more and more as time goes on.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Your True Worth
I fully agree with you that today the bean counters are in the driver seats. But I believe that is because engineers let them have it. We did not fight for it. The engineers also have sold themselves to devils. I have seen the quality of engineering going down.
Posted by Suhask1 (1 comment )
Link Flag
think a minute
Statistically an individual with a degree may be more productive sooner than an individual without a degree. If you believe this and own a company where most of the decisions are made based on statistics... use the degree as a screen. When you do this you are not making a decision based on the capabilities of the individual.

If it's important that the individual completed a task that took more than four years the degree screen may be the way to go.

Personally i would rather hire individuals after they have demonstrated what they are capable of.

I.M.H.O. computers have actually lessened the need for education - EVEN in the IT workspace! But we who work in the field of computer arts and crafts know this cannot be so.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Its who you know...right!
I digress.
I've found that having the aptitude to learn, the ability to
troubleshoot problems and the capability to apply what you've
learned more important than what your "daddy" has forked over
for the last 4 years.
Even some of those "get-rich-quick" schools pushing MSCE
programs have ripped off more people than a Veritas Support
Ofcourse, a BS in CompSci will get you a management
position...but what good is being the boss of Dilbert if you have
no idea about the work your employees are doing?

What a waste of about a study on the useless
studies that have been posted on the internet and its effect on
Posted by Below Meigh (249 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Study is based on faulty definition of engineer
I don't mean to sound snotty, but this study is obviously messed up because of using a VERY inclusive definition of "engineer."
Here is something like what they should have used:
Scientist = someone who discovers new things about the natural world.
Engineer = someone who uses known science to build new machines.
Technician = someone who knows how to use or put together complicated machines.

So, helddesk people are not engineers at all. They are technicians, regardless of their actual title, and generally fairly low-level ones. People who install and run networks are also technicians, not engineers. Engineers would be the people who invent new ways of networking. Writing software can be engineering, but often it is really technician work.

Reality check: If you can do your "engineer" job without having either a 4-year degree or the self-taught equivalent, then you aren't really an engineer.

Sorry if I've burst your bubble, but the rule of thumb is:
2-year degree or none or BA = technician
BS in engineering = maybe engineer
MS in engineering = probably engineer
PhD in eng or sci = engineer or scientist

The amazing thing about this study is that anyone working for NSF knows that what I've just stated is true. So what are they playing at? What's their game? I suggest the usual one: Chicken Little. If they yell often enough that "the sky is falling," people start to believe them. And what happens? More funding for NSF and for the universities that provide all of NSF's "experts." Maybe also the above-mentioned excusing of off-shoring.
Posted by dmm (336 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Forest for the Trees
I am a 50 yr. old who heads up a group of programmers in a mfg. company. I manage without the benefit of the degree. The problems I manage revolve around Machine automation, CAD/CAM automation on UNIX platforms, and database automation and management on mixed platforms, (NT, UNIX and Linux).
Sorry... but 4 yr bachelor programs that teach machine automation, machine operator control through intelligent interfaces, 8-Discipline Problem Solving and Multi-Platform data management are hard to find.
I have managed much better by bringing folk up through the ranks, and providing funds for continuous education so they continue to grow, (though may not yet have the degree)
... But if I ever need a Web page or someone versed in VB Script... I know where to look.
Posted by mpmacal (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
In this study, how many white folks do not have degrees?
RE: "The study also looked at engineering workers by race and ethnicity, finding that 6 percent for Asia-Pacific Islanders do not have bachelor's degrees, 34 percent of blacks do not, nor do 37 percent of Hispanics."

While on the subject of race and ethnicity, what percentage of white folks do not have degrees? The description in your article excerpt above seems rather racist to me.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Where is the link to NSF source?
What NSF study? Where is the link to the study?

What is the title of the NSF study?

It's easy enough to provide a link in an html docment, the author provides two links to old CNET articles -- ever wonder why these writers don't provide references to source material that they are "quoting?"
Posted by netmenders (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Hate to break it to you bud but you are NOT an engineer. What you are is a technician.
Posted by pbgator1 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Can a person get a PE license without an engineering degree? I did. It's not easy and I don't recommend it over the conventional way. I detailed the experience at my blog called NoDegreePE
Posted by John789000000000000 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag

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