Topeka — State leaders Thursday unveiled a proposal they said could build a bridge of funding to produce more engineers in Kansas.
“We know many of our leading manufacturing companies and engineering firms are already forced to look elsewhere for engineers to fill critical jobs because our schools cannot meet demand,” said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.
Morris was joined by higher education and business leaders to propose a program to increase the number of engineering graduates in Kansas by 60 percent.
The plan was developed by the schools of engineering at Kansas University, Kansas State and Wichita State.
In 2008, the deans of the state's three engineering schools proposed a five-year plan to increase the number of undergraduate degrees in engineering programs from 875 per year to 1,365 per year. But the proposal was temporarily shelved because of the state’s worsening budget problems.
The budget is still in bad shape with a nearly $500 million revenue shortfall in the wings, but officials said producing more engineers would help the economy.
Gov. Sam Brownback has recommended $1 million in funding for the Kansas Department of Commerce to provide a competitive grant to expand engineering.
Under the new proposal, once that investment is made, an engineering fund would be established at the Kansas Board of Regents to receive dollars from casino gambling revenues.
The proposal calls for $4 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2012, and $7 million annually for each year after. The universities would have to put forward matching funds.
“Kansas needs more engineers to grow and prosper, and we’re ready to meet that need,” said KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.
The demand for engineering graduates at the national and state level has been growing rapidly.
But state revenue problems have been an obstacle in helping fill the shortage.
In May, KU broke ground on a new 34,600-square-foot engineering building, paid for with more than $14 million in federal dollars and $6.5 million in private funds. The building houses laboratories.
But more is needed, officials say, especially with the announcement that Boeing will build the next generation of air refueling tankers, and growing bioscience and renewable energy industries.
KU Dean of Engineering Stuart Bell said engineers are among the highest paid entry-level employees, and “they are working in businesses that create new wealth for the state and the region.”