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Monday, March 4, 2013 - Page updated at 05:30 p.m.

Aeronautical engineer is UW’s new engineering dean

By Katherine Long
Seattle Times higher education reporter

He grew up on a farm in Central Illinois, earned his pilot’s license at 17, and is recognized as an international expert in aeronautical engineering, aircraft icing and flight safety.

This summer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Michael Bragg will become dean of the University of Washington’s College of Engineering, bringing with him a résumé long on aeronautical-engineering qualifications.

But his biggest challenge won’t be an engineering problem. It will be finding ways to expand the number of slots in the engineering college.

“To grow the college, we have to find a way that the incremental cost of educating an engineering student is covered,” said Bragg, 58, adding, “I wish I knew what the magic bullet was.”

Last academic year, more than 1,600 students applied for slots in the College of Engineering, and the school could admit only about 800.

The crunch was particularly acute in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, where 165 upper-division students were admitted to the department from a pool of 639 applicants.

UW administrators have said it costs as much as $5,000 more a year to educate an engineering student than it does to educate students in other fields. High-demand programs like computer science, business and engineering often cost more to run because they require small-group mentoring by faculty and because professors in those programs often command higher salaries.

The University of Illinois charges a higher tuition rate for engineering students, a policy called differential tuition. It’s a common practice at universities around the country.

But during the legislative session in Washington this year, lawmakers are expected to pass a bill that would eliminate the university’s ability to charge different rates for different majors — a power the UW and the state’s other four-year colleges briefly had but never exercised.

Bragg said that asking for help from the private sector could help increase the number of engineering students, but “at best that’s a part of the solution,” he said.

Bragg, interim dean of the Illinois campus’ College of Engineering, said he was being considered for the permanent post there but withdrew his candidacy after offered the Seattle job.

He said Urbana-Champaign wasn’t as far along in its search, and he couldn’t pass up the UW position.

“As I’ve tried to explain to my colleagues in Illinois, I think the UW, and Seattle, is a special place for an aerospace engineer,” said Bragg, citing the area’s concentration of aerospace engineers, manufacturers and workers as one of the largest in the world. The UW’s strong reputation was another inducement, he said.

Bragg has held several leadership positions at the University of Illinois, directed more than $15 million in externally funded research and published more than 200 research papers. He is a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and has received national awards for his work.

Bragg will start the UW job July 15. His annual salary will be $340,000.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or On Twitter: @katherinelong.

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