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At a time when state legislatures are becoming increasingly tight-fisted in response to the public's call for fiscal austerity, a group representing college and university professors in Texas is joining forces with the representatives of the state's public-school teachers to present one unified voice to the legislature and the voters.

The new, formal alliance merges the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors with the Texas State Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

"This new agreement represents our mutual recognition that our common concerns in the legislative process and, certainly, in quality education at all levels far outweigh any differences we may have," the leaders of both groups said in a joint statement.

College officials must make the case for federal support for research and student aid more vigorously than ever before to offset budget cuts proposed by the Reagan Administration, former Vice President Walter Mondale told more than 1,000 higher-education leaders at the annual American Council on Education convention in Minneapolis this month.

With an aging population and two workers supporting every retiree (compared with nine workers per retiree in 1940), Americans have a "duty to preserve both access and choice in higher education ... We cannot afford to waste or mis-educate a single American," he added.

Mr. Mondale said that the increasing technical complexity of the workplace will call for more specialized employee training, particularly in scientific and analytical skills.

He called the nation's laboratories and libraries "a national resource for our economy and our security" and argued for improved foreign-language training, support for the humanities, better facilities, and action to address the needs of the teaching profession, including adequate pay to retain instructors.

Because of severe faculty shortages in engineering and inadequate facilities, colleges and universities will be unable to graduate enough engineers to meet the high demand from industry that will persist through the 1980's, according to a report released by the Business-Higher Education Forum.

Unless the clear inadequacy of the education system to provide engineering manpower is rectified, the college and corporate leaders say, "the future competitiveness of our nation's technologically based industries and defense" could be jeopardized.

The group noted that the Soviet Union graduates five times as many engineers as the U.S. and that Japan, with a population half that of this country, graduates more engineers yearly.

Currently, 1,600 engineering-faculty positions--about 10 percent of the total in colleges and universities--are vacant.

To address the problem, the group proposes: increasing the incentives, rewards, and compensation offered by colleges and universities for undergraduate teaching of engineers; encouraging industry to provide direct financial support to master's and doctoral candidates in the form of traineeships, scholarships, and awards; expanding scholarship and fellowship aid from academic and professional societies to doctoral students; and encouraging an adequate level of engineering manpower research by the federal government.

With the number of foreign students at American colleges increasing by 8-to-16 percent every year in the past six years, many college administrators anticipated that the number of foreign students would triple from 300,000 to more than 1 million students by 1990. The rise in foreign enrollments, they believed, would help offset the expected decline in the number of traditional-age college students.

But because the number of students attending U.S. colleges from Iran and other oil-producing countries is beginning to decline, the tripling of foreign enrollments expected by colleges may not be forthcoming, a new report by the Institute of International Education in New York indicates.

The institute's annual census of foreign students reports that 326,299 students are enrolled at 2,454 institutions in 1981-82, a 6-percent increase over the previous year.

The number of Iranians declined from 47,550 in 1980-81 to 35,860. Enrollment of students from Algeria, Libya, and Saudia Arabia was also down, though the number of students from Ecuador, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Venezuela--also members of opec--continued to rise.

Foreign students accounted for 2.6 percent of all college students, the study says.

An information packet distributed this month by the New York State Education Department's office of public information includes a series of news releases offering advice and information to students and parents on everything from state and federal scholarship programs to higher education's contribution to the state's economy.

For students in the process of choosing an institution to attend, one news release offers the following advice:

Students should first assess their long-range career goals and their own strengths and abilities; then they should analyze the qualities of institutions that best match their needs, finding the school with the right location, size, cost, programs in area of interest, reputation, special activities, and services.

Another news release explains that noncredit continuing education is the fastest growth area in higher education (with a 220-percent enrollment increase nationally during the 1970's). Two-year and four-year colleges, the article says, not only provide noncredit courses in Chinese cooking and basket weaving but also in management, computer technology, paralegal studies, and the liberal arts.

"People are looking to noncredit courses to make life changes without the massive commitment of time and money required by degree programs," according to Gerald Heeger, dean of University College at Adelphi University on Long Island. "Today you can't make long-range predictions about jobs, so people want to hone skills for maneuverability in the job markets."

A preliminary diagnosis of U.S. medical schools conducted by a panel of the Association of American Medical Colleges suggests that doctors would be better trained if medical schools spent less time teaching scientific facts and more time teaching skills needed to treat patients.

The increasing complexity and volume of medical information has meant that students spend an excessive amount of time in the classroom, according to Steven Muller, president of The Johns Hopkins University and chairman of the aamc panel.--sr

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