Originally created 07/09/98

Report offers some hope for engineering schools



ATLANTA -- A new Board of Regents study released Wednesday gave aspiring engineering colleges a glimmer of hope that the University System of Georgia may eventually need more programs.

But top system officials still don't think there is a need for a new engineering school at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. And the most schools likely can expect is an engineering degree program coordinated by the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"If the economy stays this hot, if Georgia continues to attract high-end jobs, our current plans may not be quite adequate to meet the needs," University System Chancellor Stephen Portch said.

However, the 64-page report, an update of a 1995 study, didn't note a desperate need for engineering programs other than possibly in computer engineering.

The number of Georgia high school students indicating they plan to study engineering is declining, and the number transferring into programs at Georgia Tech is dropping as well. In some areas, such as nuclear, mining, petroleum and aerospace engineering, officials expect little or no growth in the job market in the near future.

While there is increasing demand for computer engineers -- as there is for experts in several information technology jobs -- Georgia Tech already is gearing up to increase the number it graduates in that field.

The issue of expanded engineering training has been politically sticky for the Board of Regents for years because south Georgia leaders think an engineering school would provide a major boost to their region by helping them attract high-tech employers.

Georgia Southern University President Nicholas Henry, an engineering program advocate, resigned in April over conflicts with the system's leaders.

In 1995, the system's study showed there was no need for another engineering school.

But Dr. Portch said he had promised to keep an eye on the situation and report back when there was a change in the environment.

His report Wednesday to the Board of Regents was welcome news for south Georgia boosters.

"I'm encouraged," said state House Appropriations Chairman Terry Coleman, D-Eastman, who supports Dr. Henry and an engineering school. "I think it's a sign the regents are keeping track of the growing demand for engineers."

Dr. Portch said he would respond to the report's findings later this year.

One possibility could be a joint engineering degree program between Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern.

The chancellor insisted Georgia Tech be part of any move to boost engineering education.

"I certainly think that Georgia Tech is an international treasure for this state and it's absolutely essential -- since my No. 1 priority is high quality -- that Georgia Tech is part of our solution," Dr. Portch told regents.

Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough said nine schools in the system already provide the first two years of engineering curriculum to students, who then can transfer to his university.

"The question (for the new programs) is where do you start, how do you start, how do you maintain quality," Dr. Clough said. "You don't want a surgeon working on your heart with a 400 SAT. You don't want someone designing a bridge with a 400 SAT."