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Engineering Universities:

Institutes embracing university status
University Business, March 2018

As higher ed futurists, we are asked about craven competition, niche branding, and distinctive marketing opportunities for a wide range of schools, colleges, and universities. One emergent strategic option for Engineering Institutes is to burnish their unique engineering, science, and technology niche, yet leverage the attributes and competitive advantages that come with attaining University Status.

While there are plenty of engineering institutes that function as traditional universities – like MIT, RPI, WPI, and RIT – a new generation of contemporary Engineering Institutes are attaining university status. For most, university status serves as a badge of global recognition of academic rigor, graduate level programs, and applied research. Importantly, university status has the potential to enhance institutional visibility, reputation, ranking, student recruitment, and eligibility for research and development grants.

While state academic licensing requirements vary, there is a legislative route and/or an academic licensing track for Institutes and Colleges to attain university status. Some states require freestanding graduate school capacity, distinct doctoral programs, increased focus on academic research, and importantly, the fuller development of academic depth and breadth. That said, attaining university status is a process that requires inherent resource investments in faculty development, student recruitment, branding, and marketing.

Hidden gem

We begin our engineering university status journey at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, Massachusetts. Founded in 1904, the cornerstone of the Wentworth education is its focus on student-centered, hands-on engineering, science, and technology maker-learning.

Wentworth’s decision to attain university status arose with the development of new graduate programs within the distinct professional fields of engineering, architecture, management, and the sciences. For example, the Master of Engineering in Civil Engineering degree was developed in response to rising demand for graduate level educated civil engineers. This program builds upon the success of Wentworth’s ABET-accredited baccalaureate civil engineering program.

Wentworth has earned a top ranking from the Brookings Institute based on alumni earnings and low default rate; named a “Hidden Gem” by CBS Moneywatch for providing the greatest value-added boost to alumni; attained a rising enrollment with now over 4,500 students; and increased fundraising – with plans to occupy a new $55 million academic building in 2019.

Sustainable growth

Our next stop takes us to Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. Founded in 1896, Clarkson’s primary institutional “mission is to educate talented and motivated men and women to become successful professionals through quality pre-collegiate, undergraduate, graduate, and professional continuing education programs, with particular emphasis on the undergraduate experience.” Based on its sustainable growth and development, Clarkson attained university status in 1984.

Like Wentworth, Clarkson has seen a steady rise in its student success outcomes – within the top 2 percent of highest alumni salaries in the United States as ranked by Payscale; best college in New York State for getting a job as ranked by Zippia; and among the best undergraduate engineering programs in the Nation as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

Strategic partners

Our final stop takes us to Kettering University in Flint, Michigan. Founded in 1919, Kettering’s history was rooted in a close relationship with General Motors. As a result of its growth and success, in 1998, the institution became Kettering University. Surrounding this period, Kettering achieved new curriculum improvements, expanded graduate programs, developed mission complementary strategic partnerships, and created international student exchange programs.

Like Wentworth and Clarkson, Kettering has seen enhanced student outcomes – ranked 10th among private universities for return on investment by CNN Money; among 25 universities nationwide where graduates can earn six-figure salaries with just an undergraduate degree as ranked by Money Magazine; and ranked 14th best engineering program at schools where a doctorate is not offered by U.S. News & World Report.

As a thought leader beta group, these institutions serve as prime examples of how embracing university status can achieve higher ranking, increased enrollment, increased fundraising, and importantly, greater prominence in the Court of Global Public Opinion

In reflecting on the value of University Status, Wentworth’s President, Zorica Pantić, E.E., Ph.D., summed it up nicely this way:“The faculty and staff have done a tremendous job in developing our graduate programs. The university designation strengthens our mission to educate and prepare our students for career success and engaged citizenship through our undergraduate programs and, now, graduate programs.”

James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance. Michael Healy, post-doctoral research fellow at The Education Alliance, contributed to this article.


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