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The Case for Paper: Creating Inspiration in an Uninspired World

Emily Baker, Student

Miami University

Oxford, Ohio 45056

Abstract-- There are 10 colleges or universities in the United States offering certificates or degrees in paper science and engineering. In the past decade there has been a sharp decline in college enrollment that affects the already dwindling number of paper engineering programs. This decline in secondary education among young adults results in universities cutting back on degree programs and staff, which puts small programs like paper engineering at risk. Paper engineering programs need to find a new way to reach the next generation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students. Some success has been seen by shifting the program from a major to a minor or a certificate, offering scholarships, and partnering with prominent paper companies. Utilizing university K-12 outreach programs and peer recruitment encourage prospective students to consider a paper program when they otherwise might not have known it existed. Using these tools to bring in new students and encourage them to stay, paper engineering programs can ensure they will remain a fixture in their university.


The paper industry and paper education has seen a lot of changes in just the past few decades. In the early 2000s, shifting views on sustainable forestry and the decline of some paper products like newspapers caused a large shutdown of paper mills [1]. Students graduating with paper degrees at that time would have had little faith in finding jobs with the news of local mills closing. A former paper engineering graduate recalled being in a graduating class of only 11 or 12 students, while his wife's class had five. They were drawn to the program with the promise of 100% job placement and by the time they graduated, there were no jobs for them. Students either found jobs in other industries or went on to pursue graduate degrees in another field [2].

In 2024, the paper industry has adapted to a changing market and has built itself back up to an industry that continues to grow every year [3]. No longer seen as a dying industry, paper is in high demand again. The covid pandemic saw a boom in tissue sales, online shopping has dramatically increased packaging production, and a push toward sustainability has people wanting to switch from plastic products to biodegradable paper. Besides adapting mills to changing markets, paper companies also adopt the latest technology to make their production more efficient and stay relevant [4]. Mills that have existed for decades can be seen outfitted with the latest technology in process control, and sometimes have entire sections of the mill fully automated. There is even the capability to observe and control multiple machines in several different locations remotely [5].

Despite all this innovation and high demand, the paper industry finds it difficult to shake the image it had 20 years ago. Students looking for a STEM career approach college not even knowing paper programs exist, and their parents who saw the industry failing when they were younger are not quick to encourage them to join it.


College enrollment has been in a steady decline since 2010 [6]. With engineering degrees only making up about 6% of the enrolled college students [7], this decline becomes more significant. In response to low enrollment, colleges have begun to promote the newest and most popular programs and cut low performing programs [8]. With only 10 colleges or universities promoting paper engineering programs [9], this puts paper programs at risk of getting dropped in favor of more popular programs that can draw in more students. Pulp and paper student enrollment varies by school and type of program, but tends to average around 20-25 students per undergraduate year [10]. While the largest programs can draw in close to 200 undergraduate students, smaller programs and certificates only have a handful of students enrolled. In order to convince their school that they are worth keeping around, paper programs have to find a way to draw more students in and motivate them to stay through to graduation.

Of the 6% of college students who pursue engineering programs, only about 20% of those students that enrolled graduate with that engineering degree. Conversely, public statistics on paper program enrollment show close to the same number of students from freshman enrollment to senior graduation. Some programs increase the number of students by the time the group reaches their fourth year [10]. While overall enrollment is very small compared to other university programs, they are more likely to keep students through to graduation. What have these programs done to maintain this level of interest?

Some universities have changed their program from a paper engineering major to a minor or a certificate that is added onto a separate engineering major. This keeps the program from being too narrow and gives students versatility in skills and employment opportunities. Miami University began to move their paper engineering program from a major to a minor in 2005. By 2011, they completely renamed the program, making it a minor that can be added to a chemical or mechanical engineering degree [11], eventually expanding the degree programs that support the paper minor to reach additional students. Schools like Western Michigan and North Carolina State University have a path where students can easily double major in paper and chemical engineering. Programs that add paper engineering onto another engineering degree allow these schools to not only recruit undecided students who are interested in STEM, but they can bring in students who have already chosen another compatible engineering program.

Once students have begun a generic engineering path, paper programs work to recruit students who aren't fully decided on their path. Most paper engineering programs offer scholarships to enrolled students as an added incentive to join and continue with the program. Since Miami University offers a minor added to multiple engineering degrees, they can recruit students who are already enrolled in a compatible major. Current paper engineering students present to the introductory engineering courses to encourage students to join the program. Study abroad programs, events like the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI) Student Summit, TAPPI Student Chapter, and exclusive networking events with partner companies encourage current paper students to stick with the program by building community and helping them obtain internships and full time employment.


The key to gaining the maximum number of enrolled students is to bring students into college already interested in the program, rather than recruiting students who have already enrolled in a similar program. While this is successful and should still be implemented, it is merely shifting students from one major to another. Many students who decide to change their initial path to a paper program say that they didn't even realize paper engineering existed until someone showed them. This seed needs to be planted earlier to achieve the most reach.

There is already a strong focus on high school recruitment for paper programs. Western Michigan University partners with surrounding paper companies to give presentations to high school students interested in the STEM field [12]. Engineering programs offer workshops for high school STEM students and clubs like Girl Scouts of the USA. Universities that have pilot paper machines on site will include a tour of the paper machine with their STEM college tours. Unfortunately, by the time students have reached high school many have already formed strong opinions on what they want to do once they graduate.

Introducing the program to students in middle school gives extra time to look into the program and get excited about it. AIRGAS in Cincinnati, Ohio donated different types of gasses to the Princeton Community Middle School science program [13]. Hands-on experiments done on the auditorium stage saw screams of excitement and eager hands raised to participate in demonstrations. Activities and demonstrations brought to middle school students by local paper companies and paper engineering schools will see much more participation and enthusiasm and leave a lasting impression for when they apply for college. When a student thinks about what they want to do with their future, they will remember what brought the most joy.


Because of the high student retention rates it is evident that the moves made to support students in paper programs are succeeding. In order to build up these programs, the focus needs to extend to young STEM students who are not sure what program they are interested in. Presentations at college fairs and in programs like Project Lead the Way can introduce the program. Camps, events with Girl Scouts, and mill tours can excite prospective students and highlight the creativity and innovation within the industry. College tours can reassure skeptical parents that a career in the paper industry is a solid choice for their child. Paper engineering programs are important to maintain success in the paper industry. By showing they are a unique program that sets a university apart from others without it, they can ensure the program will continue to exist for the next generation.


[1] CBC/Radio Canada. (2009, September 1). Pulp and paper woes reach far and wide . CBCnews.

[2] B. Mahler, private communication, Dec. 2023.

[3] Berg, P., & Lingqvist, O. (2019, August 7). Pulp, paper, and packaging in the next decade: Transformational change. McKinsey & Company. -decade-transformational-change

[4] Neil, S. (2017, May 26). Paper Industry reveals productivity lessons. Automation World.

[5] Tissue performance center - remote access. Kӧerber. (n.d.).

[6] Hanson, M. (2024, January 10). College Enrollment & Student Demographic Statistics. Education Data Initiative.

[7] National Center for Education Statistics. (2023). Undergraduate Degree Fields. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved 15 Jan 2023, from

[8] Drozdowski, M. J. (2023, January 27). Looming enrollment cliff poses serious threat to colleges.

[9] The Two Sides Team. (2014, June 25). Pulp and Paper Research and Education Alliance joins two sides. Two Sides North America.

[10] J. Bischoff, private communication, Jan. 2024.

[11] Schroeder, K. (2011, January 3). Paper science major renamed to avoid confusing students. Dayton Daily News. 6hEtUlqMhg1teZ2I/

[12] C. Gleaton, private communication, Jan. 2024.

[13] PCMS 8th grade science experiments. PCMS 8th Grade Science Experiments | Princeton Community Middle School. (2023, February 13).

Emily Baker is a junior at Miami University Ohio majoring in chemical engineering and minoring in paper engineering and process control. She is involved in her student chapter of TAPPI and served on the chemical, paper, and biomedical undergraduate student advisory council during the 2022-2023 academic year. She participated in the Paper Engineering in Austria and Central Europe study abroad program in January 2023. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and three children.

This is the winning paper for the 2024 Paperitalo Technical Writing Award Contest.

The 2025 Paperitalo Technical Writing Award Contest will be announced in the fall of 2024 and will be open to all undergraduates in recognized pulp and paper schools in the United States.


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