after the first college-level program earned legitimacy through
accreditation, construction education is feeling the highs
and lows of maturity. A discipline that not many ever thought
could be an academic subject now is offered at as many as
170 universities and officially recognized at more than 60.
When Vernon L. Hastings began teaching construction at Arizona
State University in 1973, the school's vice president of academic
research told him that it was not an academic subject and
"should not be on a university campus," Hastings
recalls. Today, "C-schools" are producing thousands
of graduates each year and employers are scooping them up,
as well as pumping more company time and money into school
curricula, equipment and facilities.
But construction education
still copes with painful realitiesthat the discipline
is an academic stepchild to larger progams on campus, that
it lacks financial strength and its graduates technical depth,
and that its welter of titles can leave students, recruiters
and guidance counselors confused and uninterested.
ENR first chronicled the rise
of the construction education phenomenon more than 20 years
ago (ENR 5/28/81 p. 24). The magazine is now debuting its
first comprehensive survey of the discipline. It highlights
key criteriafrom size of enrollment and number of graduates
to faculty training, program accreditation and scholarship
pool. Survey results, which are provided in accompanying tables
(see link below), were compiled based on responses received
from 88 schools. Interviews with students, graduates, professors
and construction executives from across the U.S. round out
Milwaukee's Capano prepares freshmen to run their
own projects. (Photo courtesy of Milwaukee School of Engineering)
IN DEMAND. California State University,
Sacramento, offers a glimpse of the promise and pressure in
construction education today. "We can't turn out graduates
fast enough," says Donald W. Nostrant, a professor of
construction management. Entry-level enrollment is up 40%
there in the last two years since a program name change from
"engineering technology" to "construction management."
More students are coming directly from high school, rather
than from construction trades. But the influx is taxing the
school's limited staff and resources. With just 2.5 equivalent
full-time faculty, CSU Sacramento's 110 student program makes
do in just one classroom with 32 chairs and 16 workstations.
Academic salaries also are not keeping pace, Nostrant contends.
The school's 17 seniors set to
graduate in December have felt the academic scorn of engineering
majors with whom they share some classes. "We are treated
as second-class students by civil engineers," says senior
Christopher L. Andicochea. "But the funny thing is, once
we enter the work force, we're the ones hiring them."
Several seniors negotiated starting salaries of $10,000 more
than the going rate for civil engineering grads and, in the
uneasy economic times since Sept. 11, only one had an offer
revoked. Nostrant notes that Kiewit Pacific Co., a West Coast
unit of Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc., recently attended a meeting
of the school's Construction Management Student Association
to lure next semester's graduates. "The company made
a very definite point that it had a lot of work on the books
and was recruiting persons for careers, not just for a particular
job," Nostrant says.
ENR's 88 construction schools
enrolled about 17,500 students in the 2000-2001 school year
and graduated more than 3,400 seniors as of the Spring 2001
semester, according to survey data. Many grads commanded competitive
starting salariesas high as $55,000 at the University
of Southern California, Los Angeles. Recruiters were a high-profile
presence at universities, with some schools reporting that
more than 200 organizations visited construction programs
during 2000-2001, the survey says.Click
here to view data about construction enrollments.
But if students are high-profile
when they graduate, they may be hard to find beforehand. Bachelor-level
construction programs exist in a gamut of colleges, from engineering
and technology to applied science, architecture and business.
Titles range from construction management and building science
to architectural design and construction and construction
technology. The Associated Schools of Construction, an umbrella
group of C-schools, lists 69 different program titles among
its 96 members. The confusion can diminish programs in the
eyes of university students, professors and administrators.
"Many do not recognize the value of the four-year degreed
constructor' or construction graduate," says M.
Lee Niles, director of the University of Arkansas' construction
Bodapati works on students' writing skills. (Photo
courtesy of Southern Illinios University, Edwardswille
PERCEPTIONS. Historically, many
construction managers were former craft workers without college
degrees or engineering licenses, observes S. Narayan Bodapati,
66, a licensed structural engineer and Ph.D. who chairs the
construction program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
"The perception is that we are not professional like
other departments," he concedes, citing the industry's
lack of emphasis on research and Ph.D.'s. Last year, construction
spent less than one-half of 1% of its $820 billion in U.S.
revenue on research, Bodapati points out.
Many outsiders associate construction
education with vocational education. "Most construction
programs have to prove that they are indeed a viable professional
discipline," observes Ben O. Uwakweh, who heads the University
of Cincinnati's construction science department. That perception
contributes to the profession's difficulty in attracting top-quality
students. A University of Cincinnati study contends that construction
education seems to appeal mainly to "predominantly middle
range students." Lacking cachet, the discipline also
fails to attract many minorities and women. Minorities comprise
about 5%, and women about 7%, of total C-school undergraduate
enrollment, Uwakweh estimates. ENR's survey shows that women
comprised less than 10% of 2000-2001 graduates.
Some women construction students
relish their minority status. "I think being a female
gives me more opportunities," says Jayme Newman, a senior
in Boise State University's construction management program.
It graduated just one woman student last year out of a class
of 18. "Companies are looking to get away from all the
white males. It gives me an edge on the men," she adds.
"I've run into a few men that say I don't belong in construction.
But I say, let me work on your crew for a day and I
can show you what I can do for you.'"
COMMON SENSE. Andy Cooper and Darren
Leafblad, who both graduated from Colorado State University's
construction program in the early 1990s, dispute suggestions
that construction education amounts to the learning of a pseudo-science.
"I don't think it's the dumb people going into construction
management," says Cooper. "I think it's those on
a common-sense plane versus a technical plane." The two
started as mechanical engineering majors before switching
into the program.
"Physics and calculus
killed me," explains Leafblad, a 1992 CSU graduate and
now a purchasing agent at a custom-residential contractor
in Golden, Colo. "The more that I touch stuff, the more
that I learn. When I read it from a book, it takes me longer
to get the concept."
Once in the construction program,
both men thrived in the presence of faculty with industry
experience. "It wasn't purely book knowledge, they were
talking real life,'" says Cooper, a 1993 CSU graduate
and now a vice president of a masonry subcontractor in Englewood,
Colo. Looking back, both men say they received a good education
in estimating, scheduling and project management, but discovered
only after graduating that they still needed a much wider
perspective. CSU's accounting course "almost killed me,"
says Leafblad, "but I don't think we got nearly enough
business for running a company."
WIDE RANGING. The range of subjects
in C-school curricula make it tough to cover everything relevant.
This includes contracts, law, safety, personnel, risk and
financial management, information technology, project management,
electrical and mechanical systems, cost accounting, scheduling
and more. Traditionally, construction education consists of
separate instructional units on estimating, scheduling, contracts
and the like. But more and more, observers urge the adoption
of a more multidisciplinary educational approach by integrating
functions across the curriculum to get students really thinking.
"I don't know if there
are any other disciplines that require such a vast exposure
to a number of different areas," says Craig D. Capano,
director of the construction management program at the Milwaukee
School of Engineering. On the first day of an introductory
class in construction methods and materials, freshmen watched
curiously as he strode in to drop several items on a table:
a 10-in.-dia roll of construction plans for a $20-million-or-so
project, a construction specifications book 4 to 5 in. thick,
a cell phone, a laptop computer and a hard hat. "Here
are your tools. Build this building. Good-bye," he said,
walking out the door. Capano returned shortly, to the relief
of the class.
Other programs also emphasize
more accountability and multidisciplinary thinking. "As
a result of feedback from industry, we learned that our students
were knowledgeable in the components of the industry, but
were lacking the experience of how their knowledge could be
applied to the total work experience," says William Strenth,
assistant construction professor at Pittsburg State University
in Kansas. In a senior year "capstone" course at
the school, students ran a pseudo-construction company, managing
a project from concept to close-out. They helped with design
and construction of actual community projects such as an octagonal-shaped
park shelter and a golf course restroom equipped for the handicapped.
Industry professionals mentored the students and provided
equipment and materials.
Steven G. Chamberlin, a 1985 construction
management graduate and now president of Milwaukee-based CM
firm CG Schmidt Inc., believes programs should adopt a "holistic"
approach to give students more experience in balancing competing
project variables. Chamberlin sees few indications of construction
programs preparing students to keep pace with the increasing
demands of design-build and interoperable information technologies.
"Universities are really going to have to make some significant
changes in the next two to five years, to keep pace with an
industry that is changing as much as it has in the past century,"
he says. Otherwise, "We're going to become nothing more
than a commodity. This isn't about adding a couple of courses."
Some construction academics agree.
"We're not doing enough on the critical thinking side,"
says Southern Illinois' Bodapati. "Managing people, coordinating
a response, implementing a solution on most projects, "is
more difficult than solving a technical problem." With
colleagues, he spends time teaching students the importance
of tone, such as when writing a "demand" letter
to a contractor about a schedule lapse or a soothing letter
of explanation to a project owner.
Properly done, construction education
teaches students how to strategize, coordinate and delegate,
and how to recognize the need to call in experts for engineering
advice. "You don't just sit and mimic what the instructor
says," says CSU Sacramento senior Alba R. Diaz.
HANDS ON. Holistic construction
education also depends heavily on learning outside the classroom.
Field trips and case studies often require the presence and
guidance of faculty with significant industry experience.
In the construction engineering technology program at Montana
State University, faculty employment criteria stipulate a
master's or "equivalent"meaning "an abundance
of construction experience that is of a particularly high
caliber," even without a graduate degree, explains program
coordinator Michael Whelan.
Boise State student Newman values
the school's weekly field trips and the "one long trip
to a big city to visit four or five big jobsites. We combine
field experience and book smarts to do well." Many schools
encourage students to add internship or cooperative education
programs to their academic experience, but less than half
of ENR's surveyed schools require them for graduation. Most
require three to five months on average, but the University
of Cincinnati posts a significant 18-month cooperative education
requirement. "We've had students whom we've kept from
graduating because they didn't have the hours," says
Stephen D. Schuette, head of Purdue University's Dept. of
Building Construction Management. The program requires undergraduates
to complete two summer internships totaling 800 hours. Schuette
plans to revamp it to obtain a better fit between what students
learn in class and what they apply on the job. Some programs
insist on relevant work, with employer and student required
to submit a job description in advance. At Northern Kentucky
University, a student intern must e-mail a weekly work-log
summary to a faculty coordinator, who in turn makes an on-site
visit to discuss accomplishments.
INDUSTRY SUPPORT. Funding
C-school enhancements is a challenge these days. The University
of Florida and Arizona State University possess separately
endowed CM programs, valued at $13 million and $10 million,
respectively, but most other construction programs lack financial
autonomy. Only 10 programs employ 10 or more full-time faculty;
most rely on five or fewer, according to ENR's survey. Many
struggle to convince university bureaucracies to allot them
enough classroom space, laboratory equipment and faculty.
As a result, the California Polytechnic State University-San
Luis Obispo's 254-student construction program accepts fewer
than half the students applying for admission. Click
here to view data.
The construction industry
funds some expansions. Thanks to industry donations plus funding
from the Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board, Niles and fellow
faculty and students outfitted a 27-station computer lab and
more at the University of Arkansas. Industry also endowed
Niles' program with nearly $350,000 for scholarships.
William W. Badger, director of
Arizona State's construction school, says that for every dollar
he gets from the state, industry firms and school alumni donate
$3. "It's the secret weapon used to keep university programs
running," he says. Fundraising began in earnest in 1992
when the Del E. Webb Foundation provided $4 million to endow
the school's program, named for the prominent developer. Now,
431 alumni own their own companies and contribute generously
to scholarship funds and research assistanceships, Badger
says. Joseph Phelps, retired CEO of Hensel Phelps Construction
Co., Denver, last year gave $1.5 million to endow a faculty
chair at Colorado State, specifying that the professor hired
be a construction industry senior manager, company officials
More schools are forming strategic
alliances with industry firms and groups. Fluor Corp., Alisa
Viejo, Calif., has alliances with 10 construction management
programs around the country that are close to key offices
or have programs that dovetail with company needs. At Arizona
State, 136 companies invest in the school through membership
in its Alliance for Construction Excellence. "We act
as a board of directors by helping to resolve issues, and
giving guidance and advice," says J. Doug Pruitt, chairman
of The Sundt Cos., Tucson. "If you value education you
have to get in and participate."
There is no doubt that participants
on both sides look upon their relationship as a business partnership.
Schools "have a product and we're buying it down the
road," says Mark Pendelton, president of Kitchell Corp.,
Phoenix. At Arizona State, Badger "asks what's working
for us and what's not," says Pendelton. Hensel Phelps
hires Colorado State professors during the summer, a practice
that company Operations Manager Jerry Pault claims has resulted
in curriculum adjustments.
Many academics don't want industry
dictating content and curriculum. "We want advice and
guidance," says John C. Mouton, former chairman of Auburn
University's Dept. of Building Sciences in Alabama. But he
admits that construction firms' involvement "gives us
tremendous leverage on campus. The industry has tremendous
financial influence and political clout in the state."
Some C-school faculty appreciate
the support as they battle campus administrators and tenure
review committee members who want more Ph.D.s. and better
access to federal research dollars. Increasingly, university
officials want to see evidence of research when making salary
and promotion decisions. Many contractors, even some faculty,
view such faculty requirements with disdain. "It's really
a sick system," says Mouton, a former contractor and
Badger adds in a recent research
paper entitled, "The U.S. Faculty Pipeline is Broken,"
that "the new salary structure for construction faculty
is influenced by outside perceptions that the faculty are
vocational educators rather than creators of knowledge regarding
the construction process." The average salary of construction
faculty, he points out, "falls 32% short of the national
mean." Teaching assistants, part-time faculty and lecturers,
as well as crossover candidates from other engineering disciplines,
fill current faculty gaps.
Johnston says engineering remains a key construction skill.
(Photo courtesy of North Carolina State University)
ASSESSMENT. Norma Jean Andersen,
an assistant professor in the construction program at Minnesota
State University's Moorhead campus, defends the school's relationship
with industry when academics in other departments dismiss
it as pandering. "They can't comprehend why we incorporate
employer surveys in our outcomes assessment," she says.
"Our program depends on our interaction with industry.
If we don't produce students that know estimating and scheduling,
they're going to go to a program that does."
Presiding over the future of construction
education curricula and standards are two accrediting organizations,
the American Council for Construction Education (ACCE) and
the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
The former emphasizes construction management and the latter
covers programs focused on construction engineering. Some
programs also are accredited by the National Association for
Industrial Technology (NAIT).
ACCE members debate whether construction
education remains a work in progress (ENR 8/6 p. 14). "The
problem is, nobody has bothered to divine what the body of
knowledge is," says James A. Rodger, president of the
Associated Schools of Construction and head of Cal Poly San
Luis Obispo's construction department. But Robert Eastley,
chairman of the construction management department at Michigan's
Ferris State University, believes that "the body of knowledge
is pretty well-defined."
Some observers worry that current
accrediting standards may be diluted as ACCE moves to nearly
double the number of schools it accredits to a total of 100
by 2010. "With most of the better programs already accredited,
this more recent accreditation initiative has resulted in
the addition of a proportionately larger number of semiprecious
stones," notes Ernest W. Jones, construction education
director of the Associated General Contractors. "Programs
should not be allowed to grow where there is a lack of facilities
and/or a shortage of qualified faculty to deal with the increased
student numbers. Neither should accreditation be extended
to programs that barely meet minimum accreditation standards."
Nostrant frets about limited school resources. (Photo
by David B. Rosenbaum for ENR)
National testing offers a way to
assess construction education and construction graduates.
"There are some schools that are minimally teaching the
core, and they know it," says Cheryl Harris, executive
director of the American Institute of Constructors in St.
Petersburg, Fla. For the last five years, AIC has given eight-hour
exams for Certification of Professional Constructors at universities
across the U.S. But Harris declines to disclose test scores
from individual schools because "I would lose all my
test sites," she says.
While at least 22 of the 53 ACCE-accredited
programs now require students to take the AIC exam, industry
observers say construction education must continue to boost
its stature as a profession. But too few industry firms are
willing to participate in the effort, says Mark Benjamin,
CEO of Morley Builders, Santa Monica, Calif., and vice chairman
of ACCE's accreditation committee, "because the benefit
is perceived as distant, because it's not going to help tomorrow's
job or tomorrow's bid."