Montana State University
Archived Spotlight story

Susan Capalbo and Anne Camper, MSU, and Nicole Ballenger, U of Wyoming, have received an exploratory grant from the National Science Foundation entitled "Investing in People: Valuing a More Diverse Engineering Workforce."

Evidence is mounting that the science and engineering departments with strong records of graduating diverse undergraduate populations exist within universities that are committed to improving the cultural climate for women and have gender-focused initiatives. The literature on the need for and benefits of diversity in both academics and industry is extensive, but is almost without exception, lacking a systematic assessment of the economic value of increased diversity.

Montana State University is focusing, in this exploratory project, on development of an integrative framework for quantification of the net benefits of increased diversity in the SET fields, with direct application to the engineering disciplines. The framework extends the well established human capital investment theory to quantify the private and social/public net benefits of an engineering graduate, to provide a rationale for the key factors that account for the magnitude of the social/public benefits, and to provide an empirical assessment of the net benefits for a selected set of academic institutions based on secondary data and personal interviews.

The framework can be used to infer the opportunity cost of restricting the pools of human capital that are contributing to the productivity in the engineering fields, and to assess the value of diversity in other SET disciplines. Without such assessments it is difficult to argue for allocating greater resources to increase diversity in both undergraduate and graduate education and in academic ranks, and to continue to support gender-focused initiatives.

Intellectual Merit: The proposal is novel and transformative in three key ways:

(1) it provides for a systematic assessment of the both the benefits and costs of an engineering degree at different institutions under different assumptions regarding occupational opportunities and external effects;
(2) it integrates results and findings from engineering and educational research into an exploratory assessment of the value of diversity and other gender-based initiatives in the SET fields to quantify the economic benefits of an engineering graduate, and
(3) it provides a potentially transformative approach for quantifying the opportunity cost of not tapping women and minorities for engineering careers and for testing selected diversity-based hypotheses.

Conducted by a unique team combining expertise in economics (especially addressing the returns on scientific research and higher education), engineering education, recruitment to engineering, and diversity initiatives, the analysis will involve dialogues with industry, key academic administrators, and underrepresented populations in the engineering disciplines.

Broader Impacts: The framework can provide administrators and researchers with information on the returns to investments in diversity and gender-based initiatives in engineering colleges and conversely on the opportunity costs of not retaining and encouraging participation of women and other underrepresented populations in the engineering workforce. The information is critical due to the increased demand for well trained engineers in many critical areas of our economy, the marked decline in the relative production of US engineering graduates, and increased pressures for a more diversity in higher education in the SET fields. The analysis will highlight the types of information that may be needed to better quantify the value of increased diversity in the SET disciplines. National and international policy reports that argue for the role of engineers in national economic competitiveness could be enhanced by this study.

November 2005

Photos (in order): Susan Capalbo, Anne Camper and Nicole Ballenger