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Engineering Engineering Enrollment Statistics - Thoughts?

  1. Aug 30, 2016 #1
    Hi all! I'm an undergrad sophomore in engineering trying to decide on which major to pursue (namely civil/mechanical). Recently I came across this fascinating piece of publication, which contained a massive amount of data regarding engineering enrollments by major, demographic, and school.

    There are probably a few dozen interesting points that could be gathered from the data, but I just wish to raise a question about something that really stood out to me: the disproportionate number of mechanical engineering graduates. On the second page, the chart shows more than 25,000 bachelor's degrees awarded to MechE students in 2015 alone, while there are ~277,500 mechanical engineers nationwide according to BLS. Now, compare that to civil engineering, which awarded 11,900 bachelor's degrees even though the discipline currently employs more engineers nationwide (~281,400).

    For someone who is trying to decide between the two degrees, what do the figures reveal about the job markets of each? I have gotten the impression repeatedly that MechE is a more secure field and that competition for jobs would be fiercer in CivE; do the data suggest a trend towards the opposite? Or are there other important factors at play that I'm missing?

    Also, any other thoughts about the publication are welcome.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2016 #2


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    I don't know enough about the US job market to give an educated advise. I just want to throw in the pork cycle. Here it applies very much to the situation of teachers and might be worth a consideration by you, too, when you try to interpret the statistics.
    Another thought is: Employers tend to hire people whose degree seems to be less worthy but connected to the same expectations, for it may be cheaper for them in terms of salary. This also might influence the bare numbers.

    So it's likely the best choice for you to chose what fits you best, and get the best possible certificate. I don't think employers usually(!) distinguish between different engineering degrees as long as the engineer is emphasized.
  4. Aug 31, 2016 #3


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    Pure speculation and antidotal evidence on my part: Mechanical engineers are needed more by the industry and cycle through their careers faster ie they enter the workforce, work 5-10 years and become promoted to management or move to a different department where they no longer claim their engineering status.
    Civil engineers work in an industry where they definitely need to be licensed and remain in their engineering work/title longer ie 15-20 years before they move out of the engineering field, if ever.
    As an engineer in the MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing) industry, I see a general breakdown of work as follows 60% Mech, 25% Elect and 15% Plumbing with the plumbing often done by a mechanical. So by that measure, in my industry, we need 3 Mech Eng and 1 Elect Eng for a typical single building design. Not a glamorous field, but fairly stable employment.
  5. Aug 31, 2016 #4
    Thank you for your thoughts! Could you elucidate how this applies to the engineering degrees / influences the numbers?

    Thank you for sharing! This could quite possibly be part of the reason. I also wonder if mechanical engineers are more likely to settle in a non-engineering field directly after graduation, or how many of them do engineering-related work under a job title that's different from the generic "Mechanical/Design Engineer I".
  6. Aug 31, 2016 #5


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    I'm not sure if it applies to American employers. Here you have, e.g. different kinds of universities. Some are more theoretical and some have a more practice oriented teaching. And you can tell by their names. However, students form the latter often start at a smaller salary, since it is thought that the theoretical ones are harder to absolve, have a broader education and their students higher ambitions. So it makes more sense to hire the students with lower salary expectations. This happens of course without a change in the job profile, i.e. the expectations from the employers' side. It is always about to get the maximum at lowest costs, for you as well as for potential employers.

    I mainly wanted to say, that bare numbers alone in a statistic don't say very much. E.g., in order to know, whether the pork cycle I quoted applies to engineers, one will have to look at the same statistic over, say ten years. At times of a need of engineers more students follow that path, with the result, that a couple of years later, students avoid it because there are enough. This again lead to a need several years later and the cycle restarts. This may or may not apply to engineers.
  7. Sep 1, 2016 #6
    That's very true. What makes the document I linked even more interesting is that it has enrollment data for the past ten years listed in the last ten or so pages. Enrollment has been steadily increasing for most of the majors, though some (CS) much more than others (architectural), which seems to correlate with the market and what you said about the pork cycle.
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