Last month Rob Sentz looked at engineers and made some broad observations based on EMSI data — namely that while there were more than twice as many completions in engineering-related programs in the US in 2010 (120,000-plus) than estimated annual job openings (57,000), nearly 60% of current engineers are 45 or older.
On the surface, there appears to be an oversupply of engineering graduates. But wages for engineers and engineering technicians have increased 18% since 1980, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce — a sign of unmet demand. And the engineering workforce is aging (which EMSI’s annual opening estimates capture to some degree). Depending on retirement plans — whether engineers will continue to hold off given economic uncertainties — this could have a major impact in the next five to 10 years on companies that depend on a skilled and viable engineering workforce.
In addition to the rising earnings and age of engineers, there’s another wrinkle to consider: In four core engineering fields (civil, mechanical, computer, and electrical), more than 20% of graduates from US institutions in 2010, or nearly 15,000, were designated as nonresident aliens (i.e., foreign nationals who cannot legally remain in the US without further paperwork). The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the source for EMSI’s completer data, defines a nonresident alien as a “person who is not a citizen or national of the United States and who is in this country on a visa or temporary basis and does not have the right to remain indefinitely.”
This data suggests a decent-sized segment of engineering grads are going to school in the US and moving back to their home country — a nuance that needs to be considered when analyzing the supply and demand for engineers and other STEM occupations.
What The Data Shows
The proportion of nonresident aliens completing engineering degrees is greatest in electrical, electronics and communications engineering (CIP 14.1001). From 2003 to 2010, nonresidents alien graduates in this program have jumped from 28% in 2003 to 35% in 2010. Next is computer engineering, general (CIP 14.0901), where 25% of all completers in 2010 were classified as nonresident aliens.
In electrical and computer engineering, the percentage of nonresident aliens getting degrees in the US is growing. But that’s the not the case in the main civil engineering and mechanical engineering programs; in both, the percentage of nonresident aliens was around 13% in 2010 (after each was over 15% in 2005).
Before we go on, two caveats about this data from the NCES’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS): 1) if a student gets two engineering degrees, he or she would be counted twice, potentially skewing the numbers, and 2) some program categories in the IPEDS’ classification system were altered in 2010, so changes from 2009 to 2010 could be due to reclassification and not growth or decline in program completions.
We also broke down the male/female component for nonresident aliens for eight major engineering programs. In 2010, biomedical engineering had the highest percentage of female nonresident aliens (40% of all grads), while mechanical engineering had the lowest (12%).
The male/female breakdown for each program and each year (2003-10) is included in the table below.
|NONRESIDENT ALIENS - ENGINEERING COMPLETIONS|
|Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering|
|Total Nonresident Completions||555||587||576||534||489||527||549||598|
|All 2010 Completions||3,012||3,421||3,584||4,115||4,180||4,388||4,582||4,732|
|% of Nonresident Aliens||18.43%||17.16%||16.07%||12.98%||11.70%||12.01%||11.98%||12.64%|
|Agricultural/Biological Engineering and Bioengineering|
|Total Nonresident Completions||109||137||141||133||134||129||166||194|
|All 2010 Completions||906||968||945||971||961||963||1,076||1,182|
|% of Nonresident Aliens||12.03%||14.15%||14.92%||13.70%||13.94%||13.40%||15.43%||16.41%|
|Total Nonresident Completions||384||558||651||776||767||813||879||911|
|All 2010 Completions||2,817||3,430||3,893||4,735||5,071||5,408||5,899||6,049|
|% of Nonresident Aliens||13.63%||16.27%||16.72%||16.39%||15.13%||15.03%||14.90%||15.06%|
|Total Nonresident Completions||1,064||1,164||1,314||1,280||1,229||1,271||1,228||1,279|
|All 2010 Completions||6,896||6,896||6,421||6,350||6,350||6,632||6,917||7,673|
|% of Nonresident Aliens||15.43%||16.88%||20.46%||20.16%||19.35%||19.16%||17.75%||16.67%|
|Civil Engineering, General|
|Total Nonresident Completions||1,891||2,023||1,985||1,911||1,740||1,836||1,833||1,981|
|All 2010 Completions||11,511||11,790||12,316||13,144||13,507||14,332||14,794||15,628|
|% of Nonresident Aliens||16.43%||17.16%||16.12%||14.54%||12.88%||12.81%||12.39%||12.68%|
|Computer Engineering, General|
|Total Nonresident Completions||2,067||2,028||1,693||1,463||1,300||1,271||1,475||1,424|
|All 2010 Completions||9,335||9,675||8,993||7,540||6,759||6,399||5,802||5,808|
|% of Nonresident Aliens||22.14%||20.96%||18.83%||19.40%||19.23%||19.86%||25.42%||24.52%|
|Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering|
|Total Nonresident Completions||6,478||8,115||7,969||7,511||7,044||7,661||8,321||7,986|
|All 2010 Completions||23,076||25,770||25,455||24,547||23,500||23,558||23,432||22,703|
|% of Nonresident Aliens||28.07%||31.49%||31.31%||30.60%||29.97%||32.52%||35.51%||35.18%|
|Total Nonresident Completions||2,587||3,016||3,142||3,101||2,967||3,015||3,192||3,155|
|All 2010 Completions||18,280||19,411||20,346||21,607||22,150||23,210||23,372||24,579|
|% of Nonresident Aliens||14.15%||15.54%||15.44%||14.35%||13.40%||12.99%||13.66%||12.84%|
Decline in Electrical Engineers
While the proportion of foreign-born graduates is generally increasing, the overall supply of electrical engineering graduates has dipped since the mid-2000s. And electrical engineer jobs have declined an estimated 14% (nearly 25,000 jobs) since 2001. So there are fewer electrical engineer grads and jobs in the US, but a higher percentage of nonresident aliens completing electrical engineering programs across the country.
So what does this mean for the supply of engineers? Nonresident aliens, as we noted earlier, can’t stay in the US after graduating — at least not without taking further steps, such as applying for an H1-B visa. It’s difficult to nail down the percentage of nonresident alien engineering grads that leave or apply to stay in the US.
However, two things are clear. A healthy proportion of foreign-born students go into engineering fields — as well as other STEM degrees, as the New York Times recently noted. And it makes sense for educators, regional planners, recruiters, and firms reliant on STEM-related workers to have a good grasp on these trends.
For more information, contact Josh Wright (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call 866.999.3674.
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