The demand for engineering and information technology graduates who can meet the workforce needs of the future is well-documented.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy will have more than 1.5 million job openings in engineering and computer science by 2020 — with those fields also drawing the highest starting salaries among recent graduates.
A new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that graduates in engineering, computer and information sciences, and math and sciences are among the most sought-after by employers.
And the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce has found that Nebraska will need more than 44,000 STEM jobs in the coming years — virtually all of which will require postsecondary education.
The University of Nebraska’s Peter Kiewit Institute is well-positioned to address these critical workforce demands for the state. Nearly a year after the chancellors of UNL and UNO presented to the Board of Regents an ambitious strategic plan to bring PKI to the next level of excellence, the institute is making important progress in expanding its engineering and IT education, research and outreach activities on behalf of Nebraskans.
How quickly the institute can fully achieve the goals laid out in its strategic plan depends in part on the university’s ability to make the required investments. Among other benchmarks, PKI’s plan calls for significant enrollment growth and enhanced student success, 50 new faculty, expanded research and outreach activity, and more public-private partnerships to support leading companies in Nebraska.
The Peter Kiewit Institute is among the components of NU’s 2015-17 biennial budget request, to be considered by the governor and Nebraska Legislature in the upcoming legislative session. The university’s request includes a $20 million economic competitiveness package focused on workforce development, talent recruitment, public-private partnerships, and research and innovation. About $4.5 million of the package would be directed to PKI to support faculty hiring, facility development, outreach programs and other areas.
“Nebraska — and the nation — face a clear deficit of engineers and information technology workers,” Chancellor Harvey Perlman said. “We have an opportunity through the Peter Kiewit Institute to build Nebraska’s workforce and economy through education, research and technology development, but our ambitious agenda will require new investments. All of Nebraska will benefit when PKI achieves its full potential.”
Among the successes that Perlman and UNO Chancellor John Christensen reported to the Board at its November meeting:
Undergraduate enrollment in the UNL College of Engineering and the UNO College of Information Science and Technology — the two colleges that comprise PKI — is up 8.5 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively, this fall, with each college leading its campus in growth. Both colleges have ambitious goals for enrollment growth and improved retention and graduation rates so that more talented graduates are prepared for Nebraska’s workforce.
An electrical engineering bachelor’s degree program is now available in Omaha, with a new master’s program in engineering management for working professionals scheduled to be available in fall 2015. Student advising, retention and career services are expanded in both Lincoln and Omaha. The colleges are exploring development of additional interdisciplinary programs aligned with workforce needs, and UNL and the University of Nebraska at Kearney also have initiated discussions about collaborating on engineering curricula in order to expand access to additional students.
The College of Engineering is expanding its research activities, part of its goal to build an $80 million to $100 million research and technology development enterprise around the key areas of food manufacturing, civil infrastructure, biomedical engineering and national defense. The engineering and information science and technology colleges also are expanding joint efforts in “big data” and bridges, research that focuses on real-time monitoring of the health of bridge networks in the state and around the country.
Among the other components of the university’s proposed economic competitiveness package are Nebraska Innovation Campus, the Rural Futures Institute, the National Strategic Research Institute and business engagement and workforce development initiatives across all four campuses.