Jack, H., "Increasing the Enrollments in Manufacturing and Technology Education", SME Summit, Oconomowoc, WI, August 2005.

Increasing the Enrollments in Manufacturing and Technology Education

Hugh Jack, Professor, School of Engineering, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI, email: jackh@gvsu.edu


Keywords: Manufacturing education recruiting, K-12 Outreach,




Manufacturing opportunities for high school graduates are decreasing in number. The Bureau of Labor Statistics listed the employment in ‘Production Occupations’ as 10,246,130 in 2003 [1] down from 12,400,080 in 2000 [2]. The remaining jobs require an ever increasing level of technical education. In 2001 employers were surveyed about a lack of qualified job applicants, 60.3% reported a moderate shortage while 20.2% reported a severe shortage [3]. Unfortunately, the number of students entering engineering programs nationwide has been growing, but not enough to keep up, and the number of foreign students has started to decrease [4]. Clearly reversing these trends is important to remaining competitive.


Currently there is a shortage of students selecting technical education and/or manufacturing as viable career paths. This shortage is caused by three problems; students are not aware of opportunities in manufacturing, students do not select suitable courses to prepare themselves technically for technical studies, and students do not elect to pursue post-high school studies. This number can be increased by;

- targeting college bound students during their middle and high school experiences to make them aware of manufacturing opportunities,

- targeting non-college bound students and preparing them to pursue manufacturing as a career, and

- advising students early in their studies to select courses that will keep their options open.


West Michigan now has a variety of activities that address various parts of these plans including programs such as GRAPCEP, First Robotics, Steps, Science Olympiad and Math Counts. In the region there are multiple education opportunities that allow students to pursue any degree choice. These include Grand Rapids Community College (various associates and 4 year degrees), Grand Valley State University (Engineering), Ferris State (Technology). In the past these institutions and activities worked in parallel, and many opportunities for integration were lost. In 2003 the SME Education Foundation funded an initiative, AIME (Articulation and Integration of Manufacturing Education), to integrate the activities and address some of the recruiting holes. This paper will describe the activities and outcomes of this group in detail.


1. Introduction


Of the top 20 public sector employers in the Grand Rapids area, 19 were manufacturers in 2000. This heavy concentration of manufacturing generates a constant demand for highly educated individuals able to support local industries. Moreover, these industries are trying to increase the technological level of their businesses to offset the loss of low skill level manufacturing work to foreign competition. As the manufacturing environment evolves, the level of education of the workforce will increase. To prepare for this change in the Grand Rapids area a new initiative was begun to increase the number of students pursuing manufacturing education.


The Articulation and Integration of Manufacturing Education (AIME) project [5] is focused on increasing the number of students pursuing manufacturing education by streamlining the educational process. The first goal of the project is to expand the number of high school graduates choosing manufacturing careers. This begins in the middle schools when students are starting to form impressions about their career choices, and will soon be able to select their course work. Multiple efforts are in place to encourage students to pursue manufacturing careers, including technology and engineering. Students are also given access to existing activities, such as FIRST [6] and STEPS [7] to help keep them engaged. Careful advising helps the students select the appropriate math and science courses to ensure that they can pursue technical studies at the college level.


The second goal involves a launchpad course that is offered for college credit at Grand Rapids Community College to help students in their transition from high school to college. The course is designed to address topics such as math, science, writing and laboratory skills. The course is targets students in high schools that do not offer laboratory courses, or to provide a transition between high school graduation and the start of college.


The third goal focuses on streamlining the college experience. In particular the pathways to various degrees, and careers, are outlined. In many cases this involves transfer between institutions and programs. In those cases articulation agreements are in place to ensure that students can easily transfer between institutions. The agreements also include scheduling courses so that students may take courses at multiple institutions during the same semester. Advising materials have been prepared that help students make the appropriate choices to achieve their career goals.


The academic partners in the group are Grand Valley State University, Davenport College and Grand Rapids Community College. The Grand Rapids Public Schools and many companies are involved, including Steelcase and Siemens. The group has been received financial support from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) Education Foundation.


This effort builds upon other SME Education Foundation [8] sponsored events with new commitments from Grand Valley State University (GVSU) 23,000 students [9], Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) 20,000 students [10], the Grand Rapids Area Pre-College Engineering Program (GRAPCEP) [11], the Right Place Program - Manufacturers Council [12], the Siemens Corporation, and the Steelcase Corporation.



2. The Target Group


In the first stage of the AIME project the focus is on the Grand Rapids Public School (GRPS) school district [13]. The enrolment in 2001 was 25,250, with 68% of the students being ethnic minorities and 67% from low income families (based upon the free lunch program data). According the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce [14] in 2000 there were 200,627 people in the focus district, with an average per capita income of $20,363. By contrast there were 379,248 people with a per capita income of $29,191 in the surrounding county.


GRPS students, most of whom are disadvantaged, score poorly on tests of competency in science. At the 5th grade level, over 70 % of GRPS students score below “proficient” in science on the MEAP test (a Michigan standard competency test); the score worsens by 8th grade, with over 80% below “proficient” in science on the MEAP tests. Only 2% of GRPS students in the 4 traditional high schools scored at the best level for science competency on the MEAP tests (2000-01 school year). Needless to say, we rarely see GRPS graduates start or finish the engineering program at GVSU. By focusing on this group we will increase the opportunities for a large group that can address the regional demand for manufacturing engineers.


Although these numbers are very disheartening, they do indicate an opportunity. Specifically, if prepared appropriately, we can increase the number of low income and underrepresented groups pursuing degrees in engineering or technology. For this effort the target group is students in the Grand Rapids Public School System, which includes a disproportionately large percentage of low income and underrepresented groups.


The target employer base is local manufacturers in a number of industries including sectors such as auto parts and furniture. In the Grand Rapids area approximately 25% of the population are directly employed in manufacturing, the highest percentage in the country, according to the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. These industries are already served by graduates from Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College and other institutions. For example, over 80% of the Grand Valley State University Engineering graduates accept employment with local manufacturers.



3. The Situation


Currently there are a number of targeted opportunities available to students in the GRPS and surrounding districts, as shown in Figure 1 and listed in Figure 2. We have broken these activities into Academics, Engagement and Advising. Clearly a majority of the activities attempt to engage students and encourage them to pursue engineering, or a related field. The matrix also indicates a lack of advising and mentoring in the middle and early high school years.


Figure 1 - Current Outreach Activities



Currently there are a number of educational pathways, as shown in Figure 3. The most significant issue in this process is that when high school graduates are inadequately prepared for math and/or science dependant degrees, their options are limited or their studies are prolonged. This can be a major setback for students with limited financial resources.


Figure 2 - A Matrix of Current Outreach Activities


Figure 3 - Educational Pathways



5. Bridging the Gaps


The project has three main goals, as listed below. All three are complimentary and designed to increase the number of students pursuing manufacturing engineering, technology, or a related area. In other words, to “expand the pipeline”.

Goal 1: To develop formal articulation agreements between the programs offered by GRAPCEP, GRCC and GVSU to coordinate routes of entry into professional careers in manufacturing, including early identification of potential candidates, shared resources to provide career experiences, and opportunities for entrance into appropriate educational programs.


The articulation agreements are now in place and are in use by approximately one dozen students. The primary users of the articulation agreements are economically disadvantaged students. By starting at GRCC and then transferring to GVSU the students can reduce their total tuition costs. At the administrative level scheduling and advising have been coordinated to minimize the barriers to taking courses at both institutions.


Goal 2: To develop and implement new mentoring materials, and strategies, in order to improve mentoring methods for potential engineering students and to effectively assist them in choosing appropriate routes for entry into careers in manufacturing engineering and technology. These materials and strategies are distributed broadly at all levels of education and in industry.


A variety of new and existing mentoring materials have been revised to create clear academic pathways. For students in the k-12 system these are based upon coordinated motivational activities and academic planning. For those entering the college level these provide alternate paths to guide students to their career goals, even if they involve multiple institutions. Examples of these can be found on the participants web sites [10][11][16].


Goal 3: A college level launch-pad course offered by GRCC to better prepare students academically for entrance into manufacturing engineering and technology programs. This course was developed by a team representing the Manufacturers Council, GVSU, GRCC, GRAPCEP and the Grand Rapids Public Schools. The content of this course addresses defined gaps in the high school curriculum and those seen in the workplace.


The college level launchpad course was offered for the first time in the summer of 2004. It included a variety of experiences to emphasize the importance of laboratory, mathematics and hands-on skills. The second iteration of the course was offered in the spring of 2004.



7. New Developments


In the winter of 2004 the Grand Rapids Public School district announced plans to create a number of academic academies (each is called a school-within-a-school). One of these focuses on engineering and bio-sciences, and is managed by one of the project partners, GRAPCEP. The planning and oversight for this highschool involves professionals from higher education and industry. The high school contains focused tracks with special attention to math science and technical topics. Projects are used extensively throughout the curriculum.

The school is housed in one of the four district high schools. The first class of 45 sophomores entered in the fall of 2004. For the fall of 2005 the school will add three new teachers, see the first class more to the junior level and admit 73 new sophomores. The interview process for the school is competitive including student performance, interviews and parental involvement.


The addition of the school-within-a-school has greatly accelerated the project goals. Students in the school are already on a well designed track that should produce more college level engineering and technology students. For students who decide early to pursue engineering they will be kept on track within the school. Students not in the school can be steered to other regional programs as they make the decision to pursue engineering or technology. On a positive note, the governor of Michigan recently visited the school and publically praised it.



8. Conclusions - What Next?


The current phase of the project began in the fall of 2003 and will continue until the fall of 2005. Most of the goals for the AIME project were designed to be self sustaining and will continue past the end of funding this September. The project partners expect to see a measurable increase in college enrollment from the Grand Rapids Public School district within 3 years. We have already begun to see students taking advantage of the articulation agreements between GRCC and GVSU.





We extend our thanks to the SME Education Foundation for their generous support of the AIME project.





[1] “November 2003 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Production Occupations”, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_51pr.htm.

[2] “2000 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Production Occupations”, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2000/oes_51Pr.htm

[3] “Keeping America Competitive“, a white paper by the National Association of Manufacturers, http://www.nam.org/s_nam/bin.asp?CID=84&DID=226411&DOC=FILE.PDF

[4] “ Declining Enrollments for Foreign National Engineering Students“, Report #0704B, http://www.engtrends.com/IEE/0704B.php

[5] Articulation and Integration of Manufacturing Education (AIME), http://www.gvsu.edu/engineering.

[6] For Inspiration in Robotics Science and Technology (FIRST), http://www.usfirst.org.

[7] Science Technology & Engineering Preview Summer Camp for Girls (STEPS), http://www.sme.org/foundation.

[8] Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), http://www.sme.org.

[9] Grand Valley State University (GVSU), http://www.gvsu.edu

[10] Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC), http://www.grcc.edu.

[11] Davenport University, Grand Rapids PreCollege Engineering Program, http://services.davenport.edu/grapcep.

[12] Right Place Program, Manufacturers Council, http://rightplace.org/Index.

[13] Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS), http://www.grps.k12.mi.us.

[14] Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, http://www.grandrapids.org.

[15] Partnership for Regional Innovation in Manufacturing Education (PRIME), http://www.primepa.org.

[16] Grand Valley State University, School of Engineering, http://www.gvsu.edu/engineering.





HUGH JACK earned his bachelors degree in electrical engineering, and masters and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering at the University of Western Ontario. He is currently a professor at Grand Valley State University and chairs the manufacturing programs. His research interests include using open source software for industrial control.