At a time when population growth, changing regulations, and decaying infrastructure are combining to create a greater demand for qualified environmental engineering professionals, fewer students are choosing to obtain advanced degrees in the field. Statistics collected in 2003 and 2005 via a survey of universities across the U.S. show an alarming decline in the number of students enrolling in Master of Science in environmental engineering programs. The master’s degree is often regarded as the level at which the professional engineer is well prepared to enter the workforce as a practitioner. A funding program has been established to encourage top students in Civil, Mechanical, Chemical, and related engineering disciplines to enroll in environmental engineering master’s degree programs at pre-approved universities. Students receive up to $20,000 toward tuition and expenses.
The environmental engineering profession faces an enormous challenge in the coming decades because of a growing divergence between the supply of practitioners and demand for engineering services. While the environmental engineering profession enjoys contributions from talented engineers in a variety of disciplines and at various degree levels, i.e. BS, MS, PhD, the master’s degree is often regarded as the level at which the professional engineer is well prepared to enter the workforce as a practitioner (ASCE, 2000). The Master of Science in environmental engineering (MSEE) provides the fundamental technical knowledge to equip the graduate to solve real world problems and the breadth to deal with the expanding challenges of new regulations and socio-economic factors facing the profession. Unfortunately, enrollment in MSEE degree programs is substantially lower than the peak levels of the mid-1990s and is not rebounding. Reasons for this trend are complex. One obvious reason is the decline in funding for MSEE degrees from the levels of the 1970s and 1980s. While many of the factors causing declining MSEE enrollment, such as the decline in K-12 proficiency in math and science, need attention, a coalition of private and public entities has formed an organization named Environmental Engineers of the Future (E2F) to address the funding issue.