7/27/15 Indiana University student building

Indiana University will now offer its own engineering program beginning in the fall of 2016.

As industries diversify, so must academic institutions, and that is exactly what Indiana University intends to do by adding an engineering program.

In its proposal to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, the University states its aims to begin offering a bachelor’s of science in engineering, as well as a Ph.D. in engineering, in the fall semester of the 2016-17 academic year.

The idea for the program has been in the works for months – if not in writing, then at least in the mind of Indiana University president Michael McRobbie. In his state of the university speech in January, McRobbie said the word “engineering” 16 times while discussing STEM programs at Indiana.

McRobbie’s intentions seemed clear when he said, “In an era in which there is a national shortage of STEM graduates, in which design has emerged as a critical component of product competitiveness, and in which there is an expectation that research universities should contribute to state and local economic development, the lack of programs in design and engineering at IU Bloomington must be addressed.”

On April 17, the Indiana Board of Trustees approved the proposal to the Commission for the University to establish an engineering program. The Commission’s academic affairs and quality committee first discussed the proposal on May 26. It has since been discussed in committee and Commission meetings, once in June and then again just last Wednesday.

According to Indiana’s official proposal to the Commission, these are the two major points of rationale for Indiana establishing an engineering program: “1. Having engineering at IU Bloomington is vital for economic development in Indiana. 2. Having engineering is crucial to realizing the full potential of a broad spectrum of ongoing research and education at IU Bloomington.”

There are many factors to process in evaluating whether Indiana should or could sustain an engineering program.

“As we do with all degrees and programs, the cost of the program, the return on investment, missions of institutions, all of those things will be considered,” said Teresa Lubbers, Commissioner of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. “We have not compiled our recommendation ... but we have a very comprehensive template that we use for every degree approval. You can’t just look at curriculum.”

Part of Indiana’s motivation is the fact that engineering is an integral facet of many industries and their day-to-day developments, which Indiana believes should not be an area completely monopolized by Purdue. In fact, Indiana explicitly stated such in an 11-page response to questions presented by the Commission.

According to the document, “Finally, it is important to note that the differentiated missions of Indiana’s two primarily [sic] research universities have not, in the past, precluded those institutions from pursuing unique and limited programs that are closely related to areas of expertise within that institution, even if those program areas are nominally similar to areas traditionally taught at the other institution.”

Indiana went on to highlight Purdue’s Center for Cancer Research and its College of Health and Human Sciences as confirmation that, “the days of narrow or rigid mission differentiation had long passed in fundamental areas like medicine and engineering.”

Though she wouldn’t comment on the status of Indiana’s proposal, Lubbers said, “The reality is, the interdisciplinary nature of engineering is true.”

The Exponent will continue to follow this story.

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