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by Robert I. Egbert

An Engineering Alternative

The time is right for more universities to offer degree programs through satellite campuses.

Students can study full time but avoid paying for room and board.   In recent years, a number of engineering schools in the United States have established joint four-year engineering programs with one or more other academic institutions. These ventures are called various names, such as collaborative, joint, or cooperative programs. All involve a “parent” institution, which typically has an established engineering program in several engineering disciplines, and one or more “satellite” institutions, which typically have had few or no engineering programs and are located in an area where there are few, if any, other local opportunities for students to study engineering.

The unique feature of this relatively new type of cooperative engineering program is that the parent and satellite institutions work together to offer one or more full, four-year engineering degrees on the campus of the satellite institution. This usually involves courses taught by a combination of faculty from the parent and satellite institutions as well as some courses offered at the satellite campus via distance instruction from the parent institution.

In a recent survey of such programs, we found that their number has increased in recent years by approximately one a year. The oldest is less than 20 years old. All tend to offer the more common engineering degrees (civil, electrical, and mechanical), and most are or expect to be accredited through the parent institution. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the students in such programs live within 100 miles of the satellite campus.

We expected the majority of those enrolled in such programs to be part-time, nontraditional students who were place bound because of job or family constraints. Instead, we discovered that the majority of those in the programs were full-time, traditional students who evidently elected to stay at home in order avoid the cost of room and board at a resident campus.

This result suggests that the demand for such programs is larger than expected. For some institutions, this could be a mixed blessing: They may attract students who were previously not planning on an engineering major because of their location. However, some students who were planning to attend the parent institution might now elect to remain at home and participate through the satellite institution.

The largest barrier to the establishment of such collaborative programs appears to be the administrative burdens associated with setting them up. Issues such as the amount and distribution of tuition funds, billing, faculty participation from both the parent and satellite institutions, the use of distance education, scholarships, and financial aid can all present problems. In cases where the parent and satellite institutions are part of the same university system, these problems may be resolved fairly easily, but they become more difficult when totally unrelated universities are involved. Still, a number of collaborative programs in our survey involved two unrelated universities, which suggests that such barriers can be satisfactorily overcome.

If the development of additional programs of this sort is believed to be beneficial to engineering education in general, then government agencies or foundations may wish to create grants to cover some of the administrative costs associated with the establishment of such programs. This should provide some incentive for institutions considering the development of a cooperative engineering program but fearing the costs involved.

As a final note, in the process of conducting the survey we discovered that three engineering programs that began as a collaborative venture had since become complete stand-alone programs at the satellite institutions. We did not discover any collaborative programs that had failed. Thus, it appears that the time is right for such programs.


Robert I. Egbert is a professor in the Cooperative Engineering Program run jointly by Missouri University of Science and Technology and Missouri State University. Copies of the survey paper, titled "Characteristics, Similarities, and Differences Among Four-Year Cooperative Engineering Programs in the United States," may be obtained from the author at




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