Pre-reads: Spelling’s Report (2006) and “Engineering Flexner” Report (2007)

Both the “Spellings Report” and the “Engineering Flexner Report” provide insightful analysis and recommendations for improving US Higher Education.  The original Carnegie Foundation sponsored  “Flexner Report” was an early 20th Century report (book-sized report) that led to the radical transformation of medical education in the US and Canada.

While these two newer reports are full of recommendations for higher education and engineering education, respectively, their well-reasoned transformations have been slow in coming.

In March, at the upcoming T Summit 2014, many of the participants will be familiar with these two reports.

With a focus on the co-creation of 21C Talent, the T Summit 2014 will  outline a co-transformation of  industry and academia (new partnership model) in regions globally.  A  continuous improvement logic, like a “Moore’s Law for higher education” may then be possible, allowing sustainable value co-creation and capability co-elevation through smarter technologies and social networks of T-shaped professionals, dramatically increasing professional productivity of individuals and regional quality-of-life.

For those who are not, familiar with these two reports I have extracted some key quotes that provide a sampling of the topics explored, and also included URLs to the full reports.

US DOE (2006) A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education. U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C..  URL:

  • “After all, American higher education has been the envy of the world for years. In 1862, the First Morrill Act created an influential network of land-grant universities across the country. After World War II, the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G.I. Bill made access to higher education
    a national priority. In the 1960s and 1970s, the launching and rapid growth of community colleges further expanded
    postsecondary educational opportunities. For a long time, we educated more people to higher levels than any other nation.” (P. ix).
  • “For close to a century now, access to higher education has been a principal—some would say the principal—means of achieving social mobility. Much of our nation’s inventiveness has been centered in colleges and universities, as has our commitment to a kind of democracy that only an educated and informed citizenry makes possible. It is not surprising that American institutions of higher education have become a magnet for attracting people of talent and ambition from throughout the world.” (P. xii).
  • “History is littered with examples of industries that, at their peril, failed to respond to—or even to notice—changes in the world around them, from railroads to steel manufacturers. Without serious self-examination and reform, institutions of higher education risk falling into the same trap, seeing their market share substantially reduced and their services increasingly characterized by obsolescence.” (P. xii).
  • “Ninety percent of the fastest-growing jobs in the new knowledge-driven economy will require some postsecondary education. Already, the median earnings of a U.S.
    worker with only a high school diploma are 37 percent less than those of a worker with a bachelor’s degree. Colleges
    and universities must continue to be the major route for new generations of Americans to achieve social mobility.” (P. 1).
  • ” According to the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, for instance, the percentage of college graduates deemed proficient in prose literacy has actually declined from 40 to 31 percent in the past decade.” (P. 3).
  • “We recommend that America’s colleges and universities embrace a culture of continuous innovation and quality improvement. We urge these institutions to develop new pedagogies, curricula and technologies to improve learning, particularly in the areas of science and mathematics. At the same time, we recommend the development of a national strategy for lifelong learning designed to keep our citizens and our nation at the forefront of the knowledge revolution.” (P. 5).
  • “Close to 25 percent of all students in public high schools do not graduate10—a proportion that rises among low-income, rural, and minority students.” (P. 8).
  • “According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 17 percent of seniors are considered proficient in mathematics,11 and just 36 percent are proficient in reading.” (P. 8).
  • “Access and achievement gaps disproportionately affect low-income and minority students. Historically these are the very students who have faced the greatest academic and financial challenges in getting access to or completing college. Many will be the first in their families to attend college. Regardless
    of age, most will work close to full-time while they are in college and attend school close to home. ” (P. 9).
  • “From 1995 to 2005, average tuition and fees at private four-year colleges and universities rose 36 percent after adjusting for inflation. Over the same period, average tuition and fees rose 51 percent at public four-year institutions and 30 percent at community colleges.27” (P. 10).
  • “Only 66 percent of full-time four-year college students complete a baccalaureate degree within six years.40 (This reflects
    the percentage of students who begin full-time in four-year institutions and graduate within six years.)” (P. 13).
  • “It is fundamental to U.S. economic interests to provide world-class education while simultaneously providing an efficient immigration system that welcomes highly educated individuals to our nation. Foreign-born students represent about half of all graduate students in computer sciences, and over half of the doctorate degrees awarded in engineering.51 Almost 30 percent of the actively employed science and engineering doctorate holders in the U.S. are foreign born.52 However, current limits on employer-sponsored visas preclude many U.S. businesses from hiring many of these graduates, which may discourage some talented students from attending our universities.” (P. 16).
  • “At a time when innovation occurs increasingly at the intersection of multiple disciplines (including business and social sciences), curricula and research funding remain largely contained in individual departments.” (P. 16).
  • “These redesigned courses provided online access to Web-based tutorials, on-demand feedback, and support from student peer mentors. The use of technology reduced course preparation time for instructors and lowered instructional costs per student.
    The results speak for themselves: more learning at a lower cost to the university. Institutions reported an average of 37 percent reduced cost and an increase in student engagement and learning. For example, scores in a redesigned biology course at the University of Massachusetts increased by 20 percent, while the cost to the university per student dropped by nearly 40 percent. For more information, visit” (P. 21).
  • “Salt Lake City-based Neumont University is educating the most sought-after software developers in the world. Neumont’s curriculum is project-based and focuses on the skills most valued by today’s employers. The institution’s unique instructional approach is built on a project-based, experiential foundation that incorporates the tools and technologies important to the industry. Students learn both the theory of computer science and then apply that theory in real-world projects, initially mentored by faculty, and ultimately mentored by other senior students in peer-to-peer relationships. Neumont offers an accelerated program; in about 28 months graduates can earn a Bachelor of Science in computer science degree; IBM, .NET and other leading industry certifications; and a digital portfolio of projects. For more information, visit” (P. 26).
  • “The administration should encourage more research collaboration, multi- disciplinary research and curricula, including those related to the growing services economy, through existing programs at the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.” (P. 27).
  • “Our report has recommended strategic actions designed to make higher education more accessible, more affordable, and more accountable, while maintaining world-class quality. Our colleges and universities must become more transparent, faster to respond to rapidly changing circumstances and increasingly productive in order to deal effectively with the powerful forces of change they now face.” (P. 29).

Duderstadt, J. J. (2007). Engineering for a Changing World: A Roadmap to the Future of Engineering Practice, Research, and Education. The Millenium Project, Michigan University. URL:

  • “Here it is interesting to note that during his study of medicine, Flexner raised very similar concerns about engineering education even at this early period. “The minimum basis upon which a good school of engineer- ing accepts students is, once more, an actual high school education, and the movement toward elongating the technical course to five years confesses the urgent need of something more.” However, he went on to contrast medical and engineering in two ways: first, engineering depends upon the basic sciences (chemistry, physics, mathematics) while medicine depends upon the sec- ondary sciences (anatomy, physiology), which, in turn, depend upon basic sciences. Second, while engineers take on major responsibility for human life (e.g., build- ings, bridges), they usually do so after gaining experi- ence working up the employment ladder, while phy- sicians must deal with such issues immediately upon graduation.” (P. 6).
  • “Ironically, although engineering is one of the professions most responsible for and responsive to the profound changes in our society driven by evolving technology, its characteristics in practice, research, and education have been remarkably constant–some might even suggest stagnant–relative to other professions.” (P. 7).
  • “Of comparable concern are the very narrow pigeon holes that industry and government employers fre- quently force engineers into, stunting their intellectual growth and adaptability. It is almost as if many large companies actually prefer “grunt engineers” they can utilize as disposable commodities. ” (P. 28).
  • “Yet, the recruiters that companies send to the cam- puses tend to stress narrow technical skills and achieve- ment over such broader abilities–e.g., C++ program- ming, computer-aided engineering, and, oh yes, at least a 3.5 GPA. This despite the claim by their executive lead- ership that what they really value are broader abilities such as communication skills, a commitment to lifelong learning, an appreciation for cultural diversity, and the ability to drive change. Certainly the mismatch between the broader skills that industry leaders claim they need and the very narrow criteria imposed by their campus recruiters is driven in part by the marching orders and incentives given corporate human resources staff to de- liver engineering graduates capable of immediate im- pact. But these broader abilities, more characteristic of a broad liberal education, while certainly essential for the executive suite, are also not usually the attributes valued by managers seeking engineering graduates ca- pable of making immediate contributions. Hence there appears to be a mismatch between the goals of technical depth demanded by recruiters and line managers and the broader intellectual skills for engineering graduates sought by corporate leadership.” (P. 31).
  • “Depth vs. breadth: Part of the problem is the way that the intellectual activities of the contemporary uni- versity are partitioned into increasingly specialized and fragmented disciplines.” (P. 32).
  • “Recalling the definition of Kodama (and Bordogna), the essence of engineering practice is the process of inte- grating knowledge to some purpose. Unlike the special- ized analysis characterizing scientific inquiry, engineers are expected to be society’s master integrators, working across many different disciplines and fields, making the connections that will lead to deeper insights and more creative solutions, and getting things done. Thus, engi- neering education is under increasing pressure to shift away from specialization to a more comprehensive cur- riculum and broader educational experience in which topics are better connected and integrated.” (P. 33).
  • “Overload: As the knowledge base in most engineer- ing fields continues to increase exponentially, the engi- neering curriculum has become bloated with technical material, much of it obsolete by the time our students graduate. Even with this increasing technical content, most engineers will spend many months if not years in further workplace training before they are ready for practice. MIT professor Rosalind Williams suggests “Engineering has evolved into an open-ended ‘profes- sion of everything’ where technology shades into sci- ence, art, and management, with no strong institutions to define an overarching mission. All the forces that pull engineering in different directions–toward science, toward the market, toward design, toward systems, to- ward socialization–add logs to the curricular logjam. Few students will want to commit themselves to an educational track that is nearly all-consuming” (Wil- liams, 2003).” (P. 34).
  • “Who is holding back change? Certainly constitu- encies such as the professional societies, the National Academy of Engineering, ABET, and the National Sci- ence Foundation have recognized the need for change and launched important efforts aimed at better align- ing engineering with the changing needs of society. Yet, quite frankly, although well intentioned, most of these steps have been largely at the margin, leaving both the fundamental character and the imperative challenges of engineering largely unscathed.
    Industry is a bit more ambivalent. Although they wax eloquently about the need for more broadly edu- cated engineering graduates, better able to adapt to the new demands of the global economy, they still tell their campus recruiters to stress traditional technical skills and academic records. Furthermore, while professional societies and educators alike recognize the inadequacy of an undergraduate engineering degree, the employer market continues to resist upgrading the degree re- quirements to the graduate level or making an adequate investment in the continuing education and training of their engineering staff, particularly when the alterna- tive of off-shoring engineering services to cheaper for- eign providers provides such cost advantages.
    What about the academy? To be sure, change is sometimes a four-letter word on university campuses. It is sometimes said that universities change one grave at a time. Judging from a comparison of today’s course of study with the engineering curriculum of a century ago, even this may be too optimistic for engineering education. In fact, most engineering educators are ill- informed about new pedagogies based on learning re- search in areas such as cognitive science. ” (P. 40).
  • “Disciplines were added and curricula were created to meet the critical challenges in society and to provide the engineers, knowledge base, and pro- fessional skills required to integrate new developments into our economy. Today’s landscape is little different; society continually changes, and engineering eventu- ally must adapt to remain relevant. But we must ask if it serves the nation well to permit the engineering profession and engineering education to lag changes in technology and society, especially as these occur at a faster and faster pace. Rather, should the engineering profession anticipate needed advances and prepare for a future where it will provide more benefit to human- kind? Likewise, should engineering education evolve to do the same? (Clough, 2005)” (P. 41).
  • “A second essential competency is the integration of knowledge across an increasingly broad intellectual span. Focusing on one or even several of the traditional technical disciplines of engineering will simply not be sufficient to address the complexity of the needs of to- morrow’s society. Instead one must heed the warning of E. O. Wilson: “Most of the issues that vex humanity daily cannot be solved without integrating knowledge from the natural sciences with that of the social scienc- es and humanities. Only fluency across the boundar- ies will provide a clear view of the world as it really is, not as seen through the lens of ideologies and religious dogmas or commanded by myopic response to im- mediate needs”. He refers to this capacity to integrate knowledge across many disciplines as consilience, and this will become an increasingly important trait of suc- cessful engineers. In fact, one might even suggest that the American engineer of the 21st century should strive to become a polymath, one who is knowledgeable in many fields, (and in the arts and sciences in particular), much like others in our history who have made unusu- ally important contributions to society through technol- ogy (e.g., Leonardo Da Vinci).” (P. 45).
  • “It should be noted that making experiential learning the core of professional education has been adopted by other professions such as medicine, law, and business.” (P. 51).
  • “In these new learning paradigms, the word “stu- dent” becomes largely obsolete, because it describes the passive role of absorbing content selected and con- veyed by teachers. Instead we should probably begin to refer to the clients of the 21st-century university as active learners, since they will increasingly demand responsibility for their own learning experiences and outcomes. Furthermore, our students will seek less to learn about (after all, in many ways they are more so- phisticated at knowledge navigation in the digital age than their teachers) and instead seek to “learn to be” by looking for opportunities to experience the excitement and challenge of engineering practice (Brown, 2006).
    In a similar sense, the concept of a teacher as one who develops and presents knowledge to largely pas- sive students may become obsolete. Today, faculty members who have become experts in certain subfields are expected to identify the key knowledge content for a course based on their area of interest, to organize and then present the material, generally in a lecture format, in this course. Frequently, others, including graduate teaching assistants and professional staff, are assigned the role of working directly with students, …” (P. 52).
  • “The increasing value a knowledge-driven society places upon creativity and innovation suggests we might even speculate that the university of the 21st-cen- tury should also shift its intellectual focus and priority from the preservation or transmission of knowledge to the processes of creativity and innovation themselves. Such a paradigm shift would require that the univer- sity organize itself quite differently, stressing forms of pedagogy and extracurricular experiences to nurture and teach the art and skill of creation. This would prob- ably imply a shift away from highly specialized disci- plines and degree programs to programs placing more emphasis on synthesizing and integrating knowledge to enable creativity and innovation. ” (P. 53).
  • “Beyond synthesis, creativity, and design, tomor- row’s engineers must acquire skills in innovation and entrepreneurship. Innovation involves much more than mastering newly emerging science and technology. It involves the creativity to understand how to take this knowledge to the next stage into the marketplace and to serve society. As Richard Miller, president of Olin College, puts it, “Engineers in the next generation must take ownership for the process or commercialization of technology and not simply leave this to the business community. This doesn’t mean that the need to add an MBA to their list of accomplishments, but they at least need to know the vocabulary and questions that MBAs bring to the table. Ultimately, I believe the coun- try would almost always be better off with the final decision maker having an engineering background.”” (P. 53).
  • “Of comparable importance is developing an educa- tional paradigm capable of producing truly global en- gineers, capable of practice in an increasingly complex, interconnected, and rapidly changing world. Beyond an understanding of the workings of the global economy, engineers need the ability both to understand and work with other cultures, to work effectively in multinational teams, to communicate across nations and peoples, and to appreciate the great challenges facing our world– sustainability, poverty, security, public health. ” (P. 54).
  • “Lifelong Learning
    From this perspective, it becomes clear that our educational perspective must broaden from educat- ing the young to preparing our students for a lifetime of education. Just as in other majors, engineering stu- dents should be encouraged early in their studies to think more expansively about career options and life- time goals, to consider the grand challenges facing our world, which will require engineers of exceptional skill, creativity, innovation, and global understanding. The list of “grand challenges” suggested in Chapter 2 provides a good starting point–global sustainability, infrastructure, energy, global poverty and health, and the knowledge economy–but students should be chal- lenged to consider the importance of addressing these and other great challenges facing our society to stimu- late both their commitment to their college education and to future careers.
    To reinforce the idea that engineering education should become life-long, perhaps we need to consider a step system of engineering education objectives that would be mastered through formal programs, work- place training, and practice experience in phases dur- ing a professional career. In fact, one might even con- sider a new set of credentials that would add value to engineers as they meet each educational objective, com- manding more responsibility and earning more com- pensation with each step up the ladder. Parenthetically, this might provide a far more constructive role for ac- creditation agencies such as ABET rather than focusing their attention upon undergraduate education.” (P. 55).
  • “In a global economy increasingly driven by tech- nological innovation and the creation of new business, the role of the engineer as innovator and entrepreneur becomes ever more important. Unlike the 20th century, when the large systems engineering projects character- izing the defense industry set the pace for engineering practice, today most of the excitement is in small busi- ness development within collaborative-competitive global networks. ” (P. 60).
  • “For example, Olin College of Engineering is pio- neering a project-based approach, with a heavy em- phasis on design, innovation, entrepreneurship, and other aspects of engineering education, coordinated with nearby Babson College of Business to provide the necessary business background. ” (P. 67).
  • “Why Is Change So Slow?
    And What Can We Do About It?
    Change in engineering has proceeded at glacial speed for many decades despite study after study and the efforts of many individuals and groups (e.g., ABET, NAE, and NSF). There are many barriers to change. Considerable resistance comes from American indus- try, which tends to hire most engineers for narrow tech- nology-based services rather than for substantive lead- ership roles. All too many companies continue to prefer to hire engineers on the cheap, utilizing them as com- modities, much like assembly-line workers, with nar- row roles, preferring to replace them through younger hires or off-shoring rather than investing in more ad- vanced degrees.
    Resistance to change also comes from university fac- ulty, where the status quo is frequently and strongly de- fended as the best option. Engineering educators tend to be particularly conservative with regard to peda- gogy, curriculum, and institutional attitudes. This con- servatism produces a degree of stability (perhaps rigor mortis is a more apt term) that results in a relatively slow response to external pressures. The great diversity of engineering disciplines and roles has created a cha- otic array of professional and disciplinary societies for engineering that, in turn, generates a cacophony of con- flicting objectives that paralyze any coordinated effort to drive change.” (P. 68).
  • “Yet we face a dilemma: To produce higher value in a hypercompetitive global economy, U.S. engineers clear- ly need a broader and more integrative undergraduate education, followed by a practice-based professional education at the post-baccalaurate level, and augment- ed throughout their career with lifelong learning op- portunities. Yet they also face a marketplace governed by a business model that seeks the cheapest talent that will accomplish a given short-range goal. Hence the key question: How do we motivate U.S. (or global) companies to pay more for better educated engineers? Can practice-based professional education increase the value of American engineering sufficiently to justify the investment of time and resources? And what will hap- pen to those American engineers without this advanced education? Will they face the inevitability of their jobs eventually being off shored through global sourcing? Could it be that the future of American engineering will become similar to other exportable services: that most routine engineering services and engineering jobs willeventually be off shored, leaving behind a small cadre of well-educated “master engineers” managing global engineering systems to address complex engineering challenges?” (P. 68-69).
  • “The initial goal should be to create (actually, re– create) a guild culture for engineering, where engineers identify more with their profession than their employ- ers, taking pride in being members of a true profession whose services are highly valued by both clients and society. Although many think of the concept of guild in medieval terms such as craftsmen and apprenticeships, today there are many examples of modern guilds in the learned professions. The practice of law and medicine is sustained by strong laws at the state and federal level that dictate both educational requirements and practice requirements.” (P. 72).
  • “There are several possibilities for clinical experience in engineering practice, along the lines of the teaching hospital or law clinic. While sophisticated intern expe- riences in industry are certainly a possibility–if care- fully designed and monitored by the faculty–it may be desirable to create specific opportunities more closely related to campus-based activities. Here the Discovery Innovation Institutes mentioned earlier in this chap- ter would be one attractive possibility.” (P. 83).
  • “Finally, a very strong involvement of the engineer- ing profession in the design, accreditation, and support of these new professional schools would be essential. Organizations such as the National Society of Profes- sional Engineers, the American Association of Engi- neering Societies, the National Academy of Engineer- ing, the American Society for Engineering Education, and, of course, ABET would be key players.
    There are several models of such professional engi- neering education we might look to for guidance. Many engineering schools already have developed profes- sionally oriented masters programs, substituting a proj- ect work or an internship in place of a research thesis. Some have also developed specific M.Eng. programs for industry, working closely with particular compa- nies to address particular needs of practicing engineers. Here Stanford’s tutored Internet instruction paradigm, Michigan’s global engineering program with General Motors, and Johns Hopkins programs for the defense industry are examples.
    Perhaps the most highly developed practice-based engineering professional program is MIT’s David H. Koch School of Chemical Engineering Practice. Found- ed over 75 years ago, the MIT Practice School utilizes a carefully constructed internship program to introduce professional training and experience that requires in- tense effort on several industry projects at an advanced technical level within engineering teams working close- ly with company personnel and management. Here it is important to stress that unlike cooperative education, the students are not employees of particular companies but rather organized into teams of consultants, work- ing closely ….” (P. 83)
  • “Proposal 5: In a world characterized by rapidly ac- celerating technologies and increasing complexity, it is essential that the engineering profession develop a structured approach to lifelong learning for practic- ing engineers similar to those in medicine and law. This will require not only a significant commitment by educators, employers, and professional societies but possibly also additional licensing requirements in some fields.” (P. 87).
  • “The same challenge faces the engineering profession. The growing tendency of American industry to out- source engineering services should serve as a wakeup call in the same way that the outsourcing of blue–collar manufacturing jobs did in the 1980s. The global knowl- edge economy is merciless in demanding that compa- nies seek quality services at minimal cost. ” (P. 95).

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