A 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal reported that engineering graduates made an average of $56,000 at their first job out of college--the highest among all majors surveyed. But salary isn't the only appealing part of earning a degree in engineering or construction. A 2007 report by the U.S. Department of Labor warned that a shortage of workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields could limit U.S. economic growth and global competitiveness. In turn, however, the shortage of workers in these fields increases the demand for individuals who are educated and skilled to work in them.
In short, graduates with traditional and online degree programs in engineering and construction can be poised for excellent future job opportunities.
Popular degrees in engineering & construction
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During the 2008-2009 school year, 84,636 degrees were awarded in engineering and engineering technologies, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. An additional 15,503 bachelor's degrees were awarded in engineering technologies and construction trades, while only 168 bachelor's degrees were awarded in the construction trades.
In the engineering field, the most popular degree programs included mechanical engineering (17,352), electrical engineering (11,619) and civil engineering (10,549).
Choosing a degree in engineering & construction
The fields of engineering and construction encompass a wide range of professions that primarily deal with designing and building things. From construction management to mechanical engineering, carpentry to drafting and design, there is a range of career paths open to those who opt for a degree in engineering or construction.
According to The College Board, students pursuing degrees in engineering or construction should enjoy building things, solving complex problems and working with their hands. Additionally, these individuals need to be able to work in a team, tackle large projects by breaking them down into small segments, and combine attention to detail with a grasp of the big picture. Students should also have a solid understanding of science and mathematics.
Engineering and construction students need to understand the principles and techniques behind the operation and construction of everything from a massive skyscraper to a small electrical gadget. Traditional or online degrees in engineering can teach aspiring students about architecture, computer-aided drafting, modeling, blueprints, electricity, manufacturing, and more. Students earning a degree in construction can expect to learn about carpentry, building codes, management, engineering analysis and public policy--in addition to technical skills.
Online degrees in engineering & construction
Online degrees in engineering & construction are currently available, though according to a 2005 report from the Sloan Consortium, they got off to a slow start. As of 2004, there were around 50 online engineering degrees available from the certificate to the master's degree level. The limited availability of online degrees in engineering and construction is due to the hands-on nature of those disciplines, the report hypothesizes.
At the same time, the report found that the use of virtual laboratories has similar learning outcomes to traditional laboratories, and advancing online technologies allows for easier sharing and manipulation of engineering labs among schools. These outcomes suggest that online degree programs in engineering can easily grow in the future.
Hybrid degree programs, those that blend online classes with face-to-face coursework, are an ideal option for students seeking the flexibility of online degrees in engineering. Apprenticeships, particularly in the construction trades, are also an option for hands-on training, while theory and principles can be taught through online programs.
Engineering & construction careers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 1.6 million engineers were employed in the U.S. in 2008. About one-third worked in manufacturing while another third worked in the professional, scientific and technical services industries. About 12 percent of all engineers were employed by the government, working for agencies such as the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation and NASA. At the local level, highway and public works departments were the most common employers of government engineers.
Region factors into employment opportunities for engineers as well. For example, the vast majority of jobs in petroleum engineering were found in states such as Texas, Louisiana and Alaska, the BLS reports.
As of 2008, the BLS reports that construction was one of the nation's largest industries, although the recession that soon followed hit the construction industry hard and employment dropped. Additionally, the BLS notes that many of the construction trades have a high percentage of self-employed workers, with the highest being construction managers at 61 percent.
According to the BLS, the mean annual wage of all architecture and engineering occupations in 2009 was $73,590. Civil engineers made a mean annual salary of $81,180, architects drew a salary of $78,880, and architectural drafters made $47,710. Civil engineering technicians--those who implement the plans and actually build the structures--made a mean wage of $47,420. Construction managers had a mean wage of $93,290.
As online degrees in engineering grow in popularity, students can take advantage of flexible degree programs to get the necessary training for in-demand engineering and construction careers.
At a glance
- The mean annual wage of all architecture and engineering occupations was $73,590 in 2009
- Popular engineering degrees include mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and civil engineering
- Engineers should see employment growth of 11 percent from 2008 to 2018