Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century (Free Executive Summary)
Free Executive Summary
Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting
Engineering Education to the New Century
Committee on the Engineer of 2020, Phase II,
Committee on Engineering Education, National
Academy of Engineering
ISBN: 978-0-309-09649-2, 208 pages, 6 x 9, paperback (2005)
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Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century
Phase I in the “Engineer of 2020” project, “Visions of Engineering in the New Century,”
described a set of attributes that are expected to be necessary for engineers that will
perform well in a world that is driven by rapid technological advancement, national security
needs, aging infrastructure in developed countries, environmental challenges brought
about by population growth and diminishing resources, and the creation of new disciplines
that exist at the interfaces between engineering and science. These attributes call for us to
educate technically proficient engineers who are broadly educated, see themselves as
global citizens, can be leaders in business and public service, and who are ethically
grounded. This Phase II report provides a suite of recommendations that can guide
engineering educators, employers of engineers, professional societies, and government
agencies in their efforts to engage and reengineer the “system of systems” that are part of
the engineering education process.
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Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century
Executive Summary
This report is the result of an initiative of the National Academy of
Engineering that attempts to prepare for the future of engineering by
asking the question, “What will or should engineering education be like
today, or in the near future, to prepare the next generation of students
for effective engagement in the engineering profession in 2020?” It ac-
cepts as a given that, first and foremost, engineering education must
produce technically excellent and innovative graduates, but it does not
attempt to define a “core” curriculum, recognizing that individual insti-
tutions need to design their own. It asks, rather, how to enrich and
broaden engineering education so that those technically grounded
graduates will be better prepared to work in a constantly changing glo-
bal economy. It notes the importance of improving the recruitment and
retention of students, and making the learning experience more mean-
ingful to them. It discusses the value of considering changes in engi-
neering education in the broader context of enhancing the status of the
engineering profession and improving the public understanding of
Although the report comments on education beyond the baccalau-
reate, its primary focus is undergraduate education, not the academic
engineering research enterprise. The success of academic engineering
research is undeniable. It helped shape this nation’s industrial capabili-
ties and it continues to do so in an increasing degree as more complex
products and systems based on advanced technologies are emerging in
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Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century
the marketplace and in the social and economic infrastructure. Many of
the most hi-tech companies have been spun off from university research.
The end of the Cold War and the shift from defense work has put
pressure on university research to accept funding from industry for
shorter term product- or process-oriented research. Meanwhile, indus-
try has decreased its own in-house fundamental engineering research,
making it even more important that universities conduct advanced ba-
sic research. Thus, this is a part of the engineering education infrastruc-
ture that must be preserved, but, at the same time, it must not lead to
the neglect of the undergraduate engineering education experience. In-
deed, if domestic engineering students are energized by their under-
graduate education experience, it will enhance the possibility that they
will be retained and graduate as engineers and aspire to advanced de-
grees through the academic engineering research enterprise.
In response to the issues facing undergraduate engineering educa-
tion, the committee presents a suite of recommendations in this report,
including the following:

The B.S. degree should be considered as a preengineering or
“engineer in training” degree.

Engineering programs should be accredited at both the B.S.
and M.S. levels, so that the M.S. degree can be recognized as
the engineering “professional” degree.

Institutions should take advantage of the flexibility inherent in
the EC2000 accreditation criteria of ABET, Incorporated (pre-
viously known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and
Technology) in developing curricula, and students should be
introduced to the “essence” of engineering early in their under-
graduate careers.

Colleges and universities should endorse research in engineer-
ing education as a valued and rewarded activity for engineering
faculty and should develop new standards for faculty

In addition to producing engineers who have been taught the
advances in core knowledge and are capable of defining and
solving problems in the short term, institutions must teach stu-
dents how to be lifelong learners.

Engineering educators should introduce interdisciplinary learn-
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Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century
ing in the undergraduate curriculum and explore the use of
case studies of engineering successes and failures as a learning

Four-year schools should accept the responsibility of working
with local community colleges to achieve workable articula-
tion1 with their two-year engineering programs.

Institutions should encourage domestic students to obtain M.S.
and/or Ph.D. degrees.

The engineering education establishment should participate in
efforts to improve public understanding of engineering and the
technology literacy of the public and efforts to improve math,
science, and engineering education at the K-12 level.

The National Science Foundation should collect or assist col-
lection of data on program approach and student outcomes for
engineering departments/schools so that prospective freshman
can better understand the “marketplace” of available engineer-
ing baccalaureate programs.
The report is grounded by the observations, questions, and conclu-
sions presented by the Phase I report, The Engineer of 2020: Visions of
Engineering in the New Century. That report begins with a review of the
likely technological changes and challenges that will impact the world
and the engineering profession. It notes that a dramatic expansion of
knowledge is expected that offers exciting opportunities for engineering
to develop new technologies to address the problems faced by society. It
addresses the societal, geopolitical, and professional context within
which engineering and its new technologies will exist. It notes that the
coming era will be characterized by rapid population growth, which will
contain internal dynamics that may affect world stability as well as the
types of problems engineers will face. Growth will be concentrated in
less developed countries where a “youth bulge” will occur, whereas in
advanced countries the population will age. Issues related to improving
quality of life through advanced technologies in some countries will be
1Articulation agreements establish rules that govern transfer credits that students earn
at one institution (typically the community college) and are recognized and accepted by the
partner institution (typically a four-year institution) for particular major courses of study.
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Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century
contrasted with more basic problems such as access to water and hous-
ing in others. Within countries, the demographics will change, includ-
ing in the United States, where the numbers of minorities will grow
rapidly whereas those of the traditional majority will decline in a rela-
tive sense. This has major implications for the future of engineering, a
profession where minorities and women remain underrepresented.
Although certain basics of engineering will not change, the explo-
sion of knowledge, the global economy, and the way engineers will work
will reflect an ongoing evolution that began to gain momentum a de-
cade ago. The economy in which we will work will be strongly influ-
enced by the global marketplace for engineering services, evidenced by
the outsourcing of engineering jobs, a growing need for interdiscipli-
nary and system-based approaches, demands for new paradigms of
customization, and an increasingly international talent pool. The steady
integration of technology in our public infrastructures and lives will call
for more involvement by engineers in the setting of public policy and in
participation in the civic arena. The external forces in society, the
economy, and the professional environment will all challenge the stabil-
ity of the engineering workforce and affect our ability to attract the
most talented individuals to an engineering career. However, amid all
these challenges, exciting opportunities also will exist if the engineering
community takes the initiative to prepare for the future.
If the United States is to maintain its economic leadership and be
able to sustain its share of high-technology jobs, it must prepare for this
wave of change. Although there is no consensus at this stage, it is agreed
that innovation is the key and engineering is essential to this task; but
engineering will only contribute to success if it is able to continue to
adapt to new trends and provide education to the next generation of
students so as to arm them with the tools needed for the world as it will
be, not as it is today. It is within this context that this Phase II report
considers recommendations for changes in engineering education.
Reinventing engineering education requires the interaction of engi-
neers in industry and academe. The entire engineering enterprise must
be considered so that the changes made result in an effective system.
Because most engineers work in industry and do not interact one-on-
one with people who directly benefit from their services, as do physi-
cians, lawyers, and teachers, the public is unclear about what most engi-
neers do, and secondary students (and their parents and advisors) have
poorly formed ideas about what an engineering education offers and
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Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century
how they can serve society through engineering practice. Engineering
needs to develop iconic images that the public immediately recognize
and respond to in a positive way. Those “icons” should include simple
images of the options for engineering education, their implications for
future career paths, and the image of a person who never stops learning.
This report is intended to begin a dialog about reinventing engi-
neering education, but it makes recommendations that are broader than
the curricular challenges indicated in the Phase I report. In the spirit of
considering engineering education as a system and as part of a system of
systems, consideration is given herein to important factors such as im-
proving the public’s understanding of engineering, its technological lit-
eracy, and K-12 education, which can have an important but indirect
effect on engineering in terms of encouraging secondary school stu-
dents to consider an engineering education and preparing them intel-
lectually so that an engineering education is accessible to them.
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