Archive for Friday, October 3, 2003

Enrollment drops with dot-com downfall

October 3, 2003


When the Internet economy of the 1990s sank like the Titanic, it took with it a lot of jobs, especially in the fields of computer science and engineering.

"As a result of the bust of the dot-coms there are fewer people wanting to study in these fields," said Arvin Agah, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Kansas University.

That can be seen in enrollment data at KU and other universities across the nation, as fewer students sign up to study engineering and computer science.

In 2001, there were 1,675 undergraduate students enrolled in KU's school of engineering. In 2002, enrollment dropped about 5 percent, to 1,582. And although they don't have final figures yet, KU officials say enrollment could be down by another 6 percent this year.

Enrollment in electrical engineering and computer science has dropped even more. Since 2001, the number of students in those programs has fallen about 20 percent.

"I think the dot-coms played a part in that," said Rob Sorem, associate dean of engineering.

Freshmen who might have entered the school of engineering are going into other disciplines, he said, because they think it could be difficult to find jobs in engineering after they graduate.

"Students are hearing that major scientists aren't getting jobs," Sorem said.

Further evidence of the economic downturn can be seen in an increasing number of gradate students. Jill Hummels, a spokeswoman for the engineering school, said more students were staying in school to hone their skills and make themselves more appealing to employers.

Engineering professor Victor Frost said hiring trends tended to be cyclical, and he said within five years engineering jobs would be more plentiful.

"Enrollment was up during the Sputnik years, and then it went down a little. In the '80s it was up. In the '90s it was up because of the dot-coms," Frost said. "But now it might be a little harder finding a job."

It isn't all bad news in the engineering fields. Jobs in civil engineering are plentiful, according to Stanley Rolfe, professor of civil engineering.

"Last May all of our students got jobs," he said.

And the sagging job market hasn't deterred all aspiring engineers.

Freshman engineering student Justin Ladden said his choice of major wouldn't change.

"I was pretty stuck on it," he said.

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