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New college to link professors, working engineers by satellite

By David F. SalisburyStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 16, 1983


Lionel Baldwin has glimpsed the future of graduate education, and it is radically different from the past. ''It's going to be a brave new world,'' predicts Dr. Baldwin, dean of engineering at Colorado State University, who has become a primary agent in the transformation of the hallowed halls of academe through the use of telecommunications.

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At the behest of a consortia of 24 of the nation's leading engineering schools, Dean Baldwin is forming a new type of educational institution. Christened the National Technological University (NTU) this new university will not have ivy-covered buildings or quaint traditions. Instead, it will be an almost invisible college: an electronic network using satellites, videotape machines, and computers, linking faculty at some of the nation's most prestigious engineering schools with thousands of working engineers.

The new university will be accepting a small number of students next fall. Incorporation papers are currently being drawn up. And within the next few months, Dr. Baldwin expects to have signed up six to ten universities. It will take another year to gear up for full-scale, national operations.

''NTU could become the prototype of a new class of educational institution,'' says Bruce Chaloux, coordinator of Project ALLTEL, a group set up by the Council on Post-Secondary Education and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association to study the impact of new information technology on higher education.

The new university represents a technological response to the nation's shortage of qualified engineers. The American Electronic Association has estimated that from 1981 to 1985 US demand for electrical engineers in the computer field will amount to almost three times the number of graduates in this field. The fact that Japan is producing three times as many engineers per capita as the United States has raised serious concern about America's ability to compete in the future.

The National Technological University is meant to provide advanced study for the engineering graduates who are snapped up by industry after completing only their baccalaureate degrees. It will attempt to update these engineers on the developments in various fields, a function that graduate school may have served more fully in the past. In 1976, for instance, 40 percent of the engineers who graduated with bachelor's degrees went on to get master's degrees; today less than 30 percent are investing the extra year necessary to specialize in an area.

NTU has its origins in the regional instructional television systems developed by several dozen universities since the 1960s. These use television, videotapes, and other methods to allow students near a university to take classes for credit without returning to the campus. In 1976 schools banded together to form the Association for Media-Based Continuing Education for Engineers. It is this group which is forming the new university.

While the existing TV systems have proved successful, they have some limitations that NTU is designed to surmount. First, only about half the engineers in the US live and work within reach of existing systems. Satellite distribution will enable NTU's outreach to be nationwide. Second, transferring academic credits when an engineer moves to a new job can prove difficult. NTU will facilitate transfer among participating institutions.