I wholeheartedly agree with your comment, "The biggest impediment to the operation of the law of supply and demand in engineers is that all engineering degrees are hard work," jpratch. As John Sununu put it, "No amount of glibness will get you through a thermodynamics exam." It's a hard degree to get.
"The law of supply and demand would seem to indicate that there would eventually be a surplus of engineering grads, and the starting salaries would drop due to an influx of students migrating to engineering. But that never seems to happen."
The law of supply and demand is sensitive to the "cost of the degree". The reality is that many engineering schools now take five years to complete. This makes an engineering degree 25% more costly than other fields.
Better engineering schools have higher tuition costs, although a mix of commumity college and engineering school can mitigate under some circumstances. But the engineering curricula makes transfer from community college more difficult since foundational engineering and science courses are introduced sophomore year.
The biggest impediment to operation of the law of supply and demand in engineers is that all engineering degrees are hard work! Some fields are "only" difficult, but most are just plain challenging. Folks who "hated trig" or "hated physics" in High School are probably ill suited to taking on an engineering degree in College.
I agree that it's a bad idea to lump all degrees together when analyzing the value of college, naperlou. Given the lists that come out every year with engineering grads earning the highest average salaries year after year, though, I don't understand why there's always a shortage of engineering graduates. The law of supply and demand would seem to indicate that there would eventually be a surplus of engineering grads, and the starting salaries would drop due to an influx of students migrating to engineering. But that never seems to happen. Year after year, engineering grads have the highest annual starting salaries.
The problem with engineering has always been that while it offers good salaries straight out of school, the money flattens out pretty fast. I suspect some of these people found ways to keep their salaries moving up the curve, especially the Congressmen who don't have to pay taxes. And, yes, bobjengr, I agree that engineering offers great critical thinking skills.
While US Congressman Joe Barton is an engineer, I don't think I would have used him as an example in this article. He's made a habit of saying (and doing) some amazingly ridiculous things over the years.
Very informative post. I have two friends who graduated from engineering schools then went right into law school. One is now a patent attorney and the other owns a retail establishment ( Starbucks ). Somewhat sad but reality, I know several graduate engineers who started working as engineers but realized there was no real money in the profession and looked elsewhere for their livelyhood. I think we can all agree that engineering required critical thinking and that's what other professions can use.
You're right, naperlou. The Wall Street Journal had an article called, "The Diploma's Vanishing Value," three days ago (link below). Engineering degrees, however, never seem to have a vanishing value, however. I would add that degrees in English and liberal arts have significant value, but that value doesn't translate well to the job market, especially when coming directly out of school.
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