LSU prepared to handle upswing in engineering needs

Richard Koubek the LSU College of Engineering dean (arrived 6/1/2009)., Monday's Press Club of Baton Rouge luncheon.
Richard Koubek the LSU College of Engineering dean (arrived 6/1/2009)., Monday's Press Club of Baton Rouge luncheon.

With many in the state predicting that Louisiana’s economy will skyrocket over the next several years, LSU believes its College of Engineering is in a prime position to produce many of the graduates needed to fill the expected blitz in new jobs.

And if the College of Engineering is successful, LSU can plan on banking some extra money from the state based on a plan Gov. Bobby Jindal announced last week that would reward schools for helping to move Louisiana’s economy forward.

Much of the rosy outlook on the state’s economy is based on projections from analysts who say Louisiana can expect to see roughly $60 billion worth of new plant construction and plant expansions over the next several years, mostly driven by the low price of natural gas.

LSU College of Engineering Dean Richard Koubek told the Press Club of Baton Rouge Monday that his school is peaking at the right time.

The college has seen a 41 percent increase in enrollment over the past several years, he said, and is ranked the fifth fastest-growing engineering school in the country out of 360 similar programs.

“In five years, we expect to graduate 1,150 students,” Koubek said.

Many of those graduates are expected to be in high-demand fields including petroleum engineering and computer science. Meanwhile LSU is ramping up its teaching staff and upgrading its facilities to handle the demand.

Koubek said he anticipates the College of Engineering employing as many as 200 faculty members in the near future, up from the roughly 140 teachers working at the school now.

The college is also in the midst of a $100 million renovation campaign to turn Patrick F. Taylor Hall into a high-tech, 21st century engineering complex by 2017.

The renovation means more modern equipment for teaching and research, an academic support center and expanded areas for student services. It also means LSU should be in position to produce the graduates analysts say the state will need.

Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, has said he expects Louisiana’s job market to grow significantly faster than the national job market over the next several years.

Industry watchers predict Louisiana will see a demand for 11,000 additional engineers within the next year, with many of those jobs offering six-figure salaries.

Those predictions fit with the WISE plan that Jindal unveiled last week. The Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund is part of an effort to match the work that colleges and universities do with the needs of the state’s economy.

Under the plan, the state would put aside $40 million that colleges and universities would compete over. Schools stand to gain money for every graduate they produce in high-demand fields, with engineering being high on that list.

Koubek said LSU’s push to produce more engineering graduates will help fill a void in a state that has historically undertrained its workers.

“In six years, nearly 60 percent of Louisiana jobs will require a degree,” Koubek said. “Louisiana needs more degreed professionals in these fields.”