Accounting for degree production levels in engineering and physical sciences
To, Khoi Dinh
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The production of engineers and scientists by American universities is one of the key factors in meeting the growing demand for skilled employees in these fields and in maintaining the country’s competitiveness. Optimizing this degree production requires close examination of the factors that may influence the process. Several research works have been conducted on degree production at the institutional level; however, degrees are produced within fields/academic departments. This study examined the degree production of a sample of twelve AAU public universities in relation to variations in faculty instructional time allocation and faculty research expenditures at the field level (five fields of science and engineering: engineering, physical sciences, mathematical/computer sciences, life sciences, and social sciences) and the departmental level (in engineering and physical sciences). Degree quality was proxied by faculty compensation, and analyses were conducted at three award levels (bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral) utilizing seemingly-unrelated regressions. Findings revealed that although tenured/tenure-track faculty still played a vital role at all award levels, other types of faculty (non-tenure-track faculty, part-time faculty, and teaching assistants) played an increasingly important role, especially at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. Significant differences were found among five fields of science and engineering and among various academic departments within engineering and physical sciences, and the patterns varied across the three award levels. Implications were important for both university administrators and federal and state policy makers, especially regarding the increasing importance of non-tenure-eligible and part-time faculty, their participation in academic governance, hiring choices to be made between non-tenure-track teaching faculty and tenured/tenure-track research faculty, and long-term effects of increasing funding for STEM fields in light of relative resource allocations to non-STEM fields such as the arts and the humanities. Due to limited data, other factors (faculty time allocated to research and service and faculty interaction time with students outside the class room), which could have had influence on the degree production process, were not assessed.