by Carol A. Westbrook
Fall is here and so are the college freshmen, bright-eyed and full of dreams of their future. I remember my own freshman days, looking forward to four fun years, followed by medical school and career. College in 1968 was a straight path to professional or graduate school, and a secure career.
It's different today. Life after graduation is not at all certain. Today's graduates expect to be saddled with debt, going from one low paid (or unpaid) internship to another, delaying professional school or a higher degree while they pay off their debts. Combine the skyrocketing cost of college, the shortage of jobs in our sluggish economy, with the fact that college degrees often do not provide the skills needed for the jobs of today, and the reality is that college grads may not be settled in a career until they are close to forty!
The students in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania will soon have another option. King's College, a Catholic, liberal-arts college, will be offering a new degree in 2017–a bachelor's degree in engineering. Many local folks feel that this small town, with a population of only 40,000, does not need another engineering program. Nearby Wilkes University offers engineering, and there are excellent state college programs, albeit none nearby. But Wilkes-Barre has a very high proportion of Catholics (43.5% compared to 19% nationally), and these parents prefer to send their children to a Catholic college; furthermore, some students are just drawn to engineering. If these kids have to leave home to study engineering, then the brightest ones will do so, and chances are they won't return, contributing to the drain of talent from the area. If the college's successful pre-engineering program is any indication, there are likely to be more than enough students to fill this program.
But the real question is, are there jobs for engineering graduates in Wilkes-Barre?