Chemical and Petroleum Engineering: The Numbers

January 18, 2017

Andrew Weaver

The Swalm School of Chemical Engineering is continuing to grow, and undergraduate enrollment has once again reached record numbers. Combined with more students enrolled in coop programs, and more students earning degrees, the program is larger than ever.

Swalm School of Chemical engineering undergraduate enrollment has grown steadily since 2005, setting new records for each year since 2013.  This year is no exception, with a total 444 in Chemical Engineering.  To this is added the undergraduate enrollment for our new Petroleum Engineering degree program.  The fall semester ended with an undergraduate enrollment of 67 in Petroleum Engineering.  Dr. Elmore said, “For the 2016-2017 academic year, it appears that our ChE undergraduate enrollment, while still slightly increasing may be leveling off somewhat.” This could be attributed to a smaller growth outlook in chemical engineering jobs from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS projects a 2% increase in chemical engineering employment between 2014-2024, well below the national average of 7%. The BLS points out that the, “overall growth of employment will be tempered by a decline in employment in manufacturing sectors, including chemical manufacturing”.

This leveling off might only be temporary as the chemical engineering field has been historically cyclical. Ultimately whether the flattening out of growth in the chemical engineering department at Mississippi State turns out to be a trend or an anomaly is yet to be seen, and it will take data from the spring and fall terms of 2017 to know for sure.  Enrollment trends in petroleum engineering programs across the country tend to strongly track the job market in oil and gas industries.  And, with significant declines in jobs in those markets in recent years, due to an abundance of oil and gas supplies worldwide and accompanying price declines, petroleum engineering undergraduate enrollment may see somewhat slower growth as a return to price increases and stability are awaited in oil and gas.

In the original planning for anticipated petroleum engineering enrollments in our program, a number of 25 per year (with a total of 100 after four years) was forecast.  That enrollment prediction has been exceeded by a significant number in the first two years of the programs re-introduction (beginning fall 2015).

Chemical engineering students have had a long-standing record of strong participation in the co-operative education program at Mississippi State.  Per capita, we are among the highest participants in MSU co-op annually. In total, 51 ChE students have entered the co-op program this academic year.

Finally, graduation rates have increased. The chemical engineering department awarded 81 degrees in 2016, up from 60 the year before. Recent graduates have also been able to quickly turn their degrees in chemical engineering into careers. 92% of survey respondents from 2015 reported either finding full time employment or entering graduate school within 6 months of their graduation date.

The data shows that the growth of enrollment, graduation rates, and participation in the co-op/internship programs will remain strong. “Historically, chemical engineering enrollments in programs throughout the United States have risen or fallen somewhat in sync with the fortunes of industries where CHEs predominately are placed”. With a forecasted growth of 600 new jobs in chemical engineering through 2014-2024 (statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics), the field of chemical engineering remains an attractive field of engineering. Dr. Elmore concludes, “All in all, I remain strongly confident that a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering is one of the best avenues into a satisfying career for individuals strongly motivated and with personal interests in applying math and science principles to address the complex problems our society and world faces today”.