Clemson's announcement comes as part of the South Carolina Technology Strategy, an outgrowth of Gov. David Beasley's strategic plan for economic development in the state.
"From agriculture to textiles and manufacturing, Clemson has always geared its programs according to the economic and industrial needs of the state," said Thomas M. Keinath, dean of the College of Engineering and Science. "Today, the state needs to increase its supply of highly skilled, technology-oriented workers to build a knowledge-based economy. It's only natural that Clemson again step forward as the land-grant university of the state and meet that need."
Graduating more engineers is a key component of the governor's plan to build a "knowledge-based economy" in South Carolina. The strategy was developed by the Governor's Technology Advisory Council in response to a recommendation in "Approaching 2000," an overall strategic plan for economic development which was unveiled in 1995 by Gov. Beasley.
"Clemson's commitment is right in line with the spirit and intent of the recommendations," said Larry E. Druffel, chair of the technology council and president/director of the South Carolina Research Authority. "Clemson is already well known for the strength of its engineering and science programs. Enhancing that strength will help the state's economy grow stronger as well."
Knowledge-based companies are attractive to state officials for several reasons, according to the council's report. They are among the most rapidly growing companies in today's economy, they pay higher than average wages, and they tend to purchase goods and services within their local communities.
Clemson's own experience reinforces the council's recommendations. According to the Clemson Career Center, job offers to engineering graduates tend to provide some of the highest starting salaries. Last year's graduates were offered an average starting salary of $36,000 for industrial engineering, $38,000 for electrical engineering, $39,000 for mechanical engineering and $42,000 for chemical engineering.
But to compete for the companies that can offer such salaries, South Carolina has to provide both a capable work force and a business environment that fosters research and technology transfer from the lab to the workplace.
Keinath said Clemson will grow its undergraduate engineering enrollment from the current level of 2,600 to about 3,400 and its graduate enrollment from the current level of 583 to about 800.
Adding that many engineering majors while maintaining quality will require a massive student recruiting effort, Keinath said. The college plans to add a recruiting coordinator to build on existing programs that focus on attracting more students to engineering. More scholarship funding will also be needed to keep top students in state.
"Scholarship funding is the college's number one private fund-raising priority," he said.
Wednesday's announcement coincides with National Engineers Week, Feb. 22-28. Clemson's scheduled events include educational outreach programs, a toothpick-bridge-building competition for area high-school students, erection of a 40-foot-long sculpture to honor alumni accomplishments and induction of two new honorees into the prestigious Thomas Green Clemson Academy of Engineers.