In the closing hours of their 2011 session, Kansas legislators took a large and positive step to produce more engineering graduates in the state.
A bill passed early Friday morning will allocate $10.5 million per year to boost engineering programs at the state’s three largest universities: Kansas University, Kansas State University and Wichita State University. Also attached to the bill is a provision that gives KU authority to issue $65 million in bonds to build a new 100,000-square-foot engineering classroom building adjacent to the 34,600-square-foot engineering lab building already under construction.
The goal of the legislation is to increase the number of engineering graduates from Kansas universities from the current 875 per year to 1,365 per year by 2021. Funds for the program will come from revenue generated by state-owned casinos, along with matching funds from the three universities.
Producing more engineers is a solid strategy to help build the Kansas economy. A quick check of online job sites Friday showed hundreds of Kansas job listings for engineers in a variety of disciplines: aerospace, manufacturing, information technology, transportation and others. Kansas needs people to fill those jobs.
One challenge, of course, is to keep those engineers in Kansas once they have completed their degrees. Over the years, Kansas universities have done a great job of producing graduates in engineering and other high-demand fields and then watching those graduates leave the state to pursue their professional careers. Kansas was a great place to be from.
In the current tight job market, the availability of engineering jobs here in Kansas likely would be a strong incentive for many engineering graduates to at least start their careers here. Once they are established, they may decide to stay a little longer.
There are no guarantees, but faced with an obvious shortage of engineers in a variety of industries, Kansas lawmakers have taken a reasonable course by investing in programs that could help fill that need.