NCEES Reaffirms Its Stake in the Future of Engineering Licensure

August 21, 2015
ASCE Treasurer Dennis Truax, Chair of NCEES’s Advisory Committee on Council Activities presents Position Statement 35 Future Education Requirements for Engineering Licensure. Seated is ASCE member Mike Conzett.
ASCE Treasurer Dennis Truax, Chair of NCEES’s Advisory Committee on Council Activities presents Position Statement 35 Future Education Requirements for Engineering Licensure. Seated is ASCE member Mike Conzett.

This week, NCEES, the organization representing engineering licensing boards, held its annual meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia. Not surprisingly, ASCE is deeply invested in the issues discussed and debated by NCEES delegates. After all, civil engineers represent the vast majority (about 70 percent) of licensed professional engineers. In addition to the many ASCE members represented among the delegates from state P.E. and professional surveying boards, Mike Conzett, an active ASCE member from Nebraska, was installed as NCEES president. Past ASCE president Dan Turner was installed as president-elect. I admire and appreciate the commitment of all of these individuals to advancing the engineering profession and helping to uphold our obligation to protect public health, safety and welfare.

Among the issues on the agenda at this meeting was approval of a position statement regarding increased educational requirements for engineering licensure, a position that is in keeping with ASCE’s own policy in support of moving to a master’s degree as a requirement for licensure for future P.E.s.

Passage of this position statement represents an important acknowledgement that future professional engineers will need advanced education, and that incorporating this in the licensure process will one day be necessary.

The world is changing. Practice is more complex; technology is exploding. What a change I’ve seen over my 50-year career in how we do our engineering work. I strongly believe that obtaining more education beyond the bachelor’s degree is going to continue to be recognized as necessary. More and more new graduates are going on to get a master’s degree as I did. The workplace continues to change. It’s hard to imagine the complexity of the world that awaits today’s students.

We have an obligation as the stewards of our great profession – an obligation to future engineers and to the public they will serve – to ensure that the requirements for licensure keep pace with this changing world. I’m pleased that NCEES is, like us, shaping a future vision for needed change.

Read more about the NCEES position statement.

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29 Comments
  • Those PHd’s making these recommendation are not considering that most of the largest US engineering companies are getting around quite easily by outsourcing engineering work overseas to location like Delhi, Mumba, Philippines and other Asian countries. These outsourced resources do most of the work under process templates meeting ISO requirements and at the end are stamped by supervisor engineers leaving little to no training room for those new US graduate engineers. What for to get masters’ and Phd degrees if there are no good pay jobs in USA. Not to mention IT and electrical and software engineer jobs by Silicon Valley and Seattle giant employers that are inundated with H1 visa holders living in USA for years. Frankly, there is little incentive for civil engineers any more, many of graduates end up working for contractors as red collar workers !

  • A master’s degree in engineering can help prepare you for your practice, but so can experience. Raise the minimum time of 4 years work experience to sit for the PE to 6 years, and split the PE test into a morning session allowable at 3 years and an afternoon portion in the 6th year. Keep testing and requiring students to learn and grow, don’t send them into ever increasing debt.

  • This begs the question, “How will this impact the pass rate of the P.E. Exam?” and will this in turn increase the difficulty of the exam to ensure the pass rate remain the same?

  • In my opinion, the main reason for the future required master degree in engineering prior to taking the licensing test is the reduced education from 20 years ago. A 1995 BSCE would be the equivalent of a 2015 MSCE. Since the bachelor’s degree education requirements have been reduced, the additional time for a masters’ degree is warranted.

    The education of today, in my opinion leaves a lot of extra on the job training to bring the recent graduate to where they should be with a BSCE. Very few starting out engineers can work on designing a framing system of more than one component. An engineer who worked for me (with a masters degree) could not figure out how a 20′ long timber cap beam supported by four equally spaced piless did not span 20′. In a recent interview of a new graduate, they did not know what a composite steel beam was.

    The choices for the future are to require a masters degree, or go back 20 years and train the graduate to be an engineer and minimize the non-engineering, science, and math courses.

  • Keep in mind that the master’s or equivalent requirement would only apply to licensure as a PE. Graduates of BS programs would still have the choice about whether or not to pursue licensure.

    In addition, the master’s or equivalent requirement would not even require a master’s degree. Someone could take five advanced undergraduate courses in a specialty area like structural engineering and five courses in management and public policy.

    Also, universities would probably respond to the master’s or equivalent requirement by creating professional master’s degree programs (some already exist) which emphasize practice rather than research. The universities could hire PE’s from industry to teach many of the courses in such programs.

  • I would bet an engineer with a bachelors degree and 2 years experience will be more valuable and adaptable than 0 experience and the masters. I have seen too many master degreed individual feel like they are beyond getting their hands dirty just because they have a masters. Should not be a requirement but a choice. In my opinion there is too much theory and not enough practicable acclimation in most programs but that I because most professors have never been in private practice and had to make a dollar.

  • Raising the Bar is important to our profession. NCEES made the right decision. Keep the momentum moving forward!

  • I am pleased to hear that NCEES has adopted a formal position statement regarding raising the minimum education requirements for professional engineering licensure. It is undeniable that our world, and the engineering of our public and private infrastructure, is getting more complex over time. One look at the size of our current design codes compared to 20 or 30 years ago emphasizes this point. This trend in increasing complexity is only going to accelerate as we move to the future, requiring more formal education from our licensed engineers.

    Moving toward a Master’s equivalent for professional licensure will ensure that the future generations of professional engineers have a sufficient body of knowledge to tackle the immense engineering challenges that will face them as projects get more complex and societal pressures continue to increase. Other professions such as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and accountants have recognized increasing complexities in their fields and have responded with increased education requirements for licensure. We in the engineering profession need to step up to the plate and recognize the increasing complexities in our own field. This starts by taking the necessary step of increasing our education requirements for licensure so that future generations of licensed engineers are prepared for the significant challenges they will face.

  • Frederick Germann, P.E.

    First of all, the purpose of education is to teach the student to learn on their own. Second, and equally as important, education is not solely obtained at an university. Today’s professors have negligible work experience and engineering curriculums suffer because of that. The market place persuades and dictates to an engineer to engage in self-study. To have a government, or quasi-government, entity set policy is an assault on our freedom, freedom to choose. Central planning does not work. Those individuals who undertake self-study are proactive and surpass those who don’t. If anyone needs to have continuing education it is the professors themselves. A requisite to become a professor should be employment in the private sector for a minimum of 15 years. The number of individuals who have contributed to the engineering profession without formal education are legion. How many professors know how to take a plate of steel and with only a file create a perfect square to within a thousandths of an inch. The point of that is today’s professors have been misled and mislead students into thinking engineering can be done all on a computer, i.e., theory. It cannot, and never could. Today’s engineer, as was yesterday’s engineer, needs to be knowledgeable of the trades. If anything, an engineer should enroll in courses at vo-tech to learn about welding, steel fabrication, masonry, carpentry, plumbing, etc. The success of a project is dependent on three groups: 1) Professors to develop economical design procedures with practicality and not something that would impress Stephen Hawkins, 2) Tradesmen, and in many instances without their skill the success of a project would not be achievable, and 3) Engineers who are liaisons between theory and the trades. Too much emphasis here lately has been on theory. We still have traffic congestion and pavement material failure in spite of all the research that has been conducted since the inception of the U.S. Bureau of Roads. That’s been a long time and a lot of taxpayers money. The ROI has been dismal. – See more at: http://blogs.asce.org/ncees-endorses-future-focused-position-on-educational-requirements-for-licensure/#sthash.mu360vj0.dpuf

  • When I meet other Civil Engineers, I am amazed that so many are engaged in specialty occupations that require significant knowledge and experience beyond that required for a Bachelor’s degree. Although most follow the standard (I avoid using the term ‘traditional’ here because the ‘traditional’ engineer was trained to understand the basics of applied science, but to wear many hats in the design and construction process) disciplines such as structural engineering.

    I agree that this specialized education must come from one or more sources, including OJT, but can four year colleges and universities provide this training? I think that community colleges and private institutions are more flexible and experienced at adapting to the demands of the workplace- especially with specialized education- and at a lower cost and limiting the training to the specific needs of the student, rather than an extra year of expensive course work that may or may not be job-related.

    It may be a trend to keep up with the architects and some other countries by adding a fifth year, but the trend may take another course entirely- we don’t really know. Those of us in construction are keenly aware of OSHA regulations and how they affect our work, but an interesting concept has arisen that could alter certain concepts if applied to engineering education and registration. The certification of crane operators (and a few related craft skills) has been a big issue for several years. OSHA’s current thought is the separation of certification and qualification. The recent Final Crane Rule places the burden of qualification upon the employer, regardless of certification- although certification is desirable and frequently required. I can see some modification of this concept eventually becoming a reality in our world.

    The expense of an additional year cannot be dismissed with the burden of student loans crippling graduates for years. Nor can university engineering programs survive in their current state with funds eroding from many sources.

  • I strongly support the NCEES position. The knowledge, skills and attitudes required of an engineer in the 21st century far exceed those demanded of 20th century engineers, but the time available within an undergraduate engineering program to develop these attributes has not expanded to keep pace (in fact the number of required credit hours has diminished over the last 30 to 40 years). During this time, the required expertise and complexity have increased in virtually every aspect of the civil engineering profession. Computer aided design in the areas of drawing preparation, water system design, stormwater, and highway, for example, require a thorough understanding of civil engineering fundamentals coupled with specific high-level technical knowledge to adequately use and assess the model outcomes.

  • Dear David:
    I agree with your comment. However, even without the general education classes, students in other countries end up taking a lot of more technical credit hours than students in the US. With increasing complexities in the projects and technological advancements, I strongly believe that our entry level engineers need more technical knowledge. The best way to do so at this time is through masters degree or equivalent. Our leaders have been working hard to make sure that future civil engineers are prepared to handle 21st century projects. I commend them for having a long-term vision of the profession. All Civil Engineers should support this important endeavor.
    Regards,
    Sanjeev

  • I applaud NCEES for their positions on raising the minimum educational requirements for licensure. I believe that the demands on today’s PE are greater than those of the past. This coupled with the reduced educational requirements for a bachelors degree necessitates an increase in the requirements fro licensure.

  • Proudly, as a civil engineer, I continue to applaud ASCE for, in 1998, adopting Policy Statement 465 which calls for a master’s degree in engineering or equivalent as a condition for licensure. As a member of the broader engineering profession, I am pleased to see NCEES take a supportive position.

    One reason I celebrate ASCE and NCEES licensure-related actions is that I want engineering to attract the most intelligent and aspiring young people. What are the bright and motivated high school students asking today about engineering and other professions and what are they thinking about the answers?

    Assume some of them don’t like what they learn about engineering’s low formal education requirements and what that might mean for their futures. Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for us and perhaps society, these young people have many options in the form of professions with higher formal education licensure requirements such as accounting, architecture, audiology, dentistry, law, medicine, physician assistant, psychiatry, psychology, occupational therapy, optometry, pharmacy, physical therapy, and veterinary medicine. How can we explain engineering’s shortest length of formal education of all mainline professions? What smart and aspiring high school student would see that as a strength?

    Some of us complain, Rodney Dangerfield style, that “engineers don’t get no respect.” Who is doing this to us? Not those other professions. We are doing it to ourselves. We are our own worst enemy.

    Fortunately, ASCE and NCEES are taking the lead in moving engineering forward. Raising the bar for entering the professional practice of engineering will attract more of the best and brightest young people and then prepare them to competently practice our essential profession in an increasingly complex world.

  • The push for greater academic qualifications as a prerequisite for licensure may be a boon for the colleges and universities, but will not produce better engineers. The history of our profession was founded on practical training over academic learning. Spending longer in college does not allow would-be engineers to develop the skills fundamental to professional practice. These are skills often already found lacking in graduates, and more college years will not improve this. I do not think that requiring a Masters degree is raising the bar at all, it may actually be lowering it.

  • Lyndell:

    The Raise the Bar initiative does not require anyone to get a research-oriented master’s degree. In fact, it does not require any graduate education at all. Engineers would be free to choose practice-oriented educational opportunities, such as additional upper level undergraduate engineering courses in a specialty area, a professional master’s degree focused on practice instead of research, or even courses offered by companies and employers. Up to half of the additional hours could be in areas such as business, management, and public policy, or all of the additional hours could be technical.

    Implementation of Raise the Bar would require a system to be created to approve these courses. NCEES has agreed to do this, in principle, but they are not going to do it until a state licensure board adopts requirements similar to those in the Raise the Bar initiative.

    The cost of additional education beyond the bachelor’s degree is not an impediment for physicians, lawyers, accountants, occupational therapists, or the other professions that require additional education. Investment in additional education is good for individual engineers, it is good for engineering firms, it is good for public agencies that hire professional engineers, and it is good for the engineering profession.

    Finally, many good students are uninterested in engineering because it “only” requires a bachelor’s degree, i.e., it is seen by many as unappealing precisely because it has such a modest educational requirement compared to many other professions.

    Do we really think that engineers should be less educated than almost all other professionals?

  • David:

    Even if it were desirable, ASCE and engineering faculty members in universities have no power to eliminate general education requirements. In the state in which I teach, the general education requirements are established by the Department of Higher Education and the state legislature. The universities have no choice but to implement those general education requirements.

    However, it would not be desirable to eliminate general education from engineering degrees. Engineers design solutions for human societies. Long gone are the days when engineers sat in a cubicle with a slide rule or a calculator and did repetitive calculations all day long—computers and software do that now. Today’s engineers spend 50% of their time communicating with other engineers, with subordinates, with supervisors, with upper management, and with the general public. Engineers need to understand society and they need to be excellent communicators as well as have excellent technical knowledge and skills.

    Physicians did not eliminate general education. Most of them obtained a bachelor’s degree, which includes lots of general education and electives, along with a list of prerequisites for medical school. Ditto for lawyers. Raise the Bar is a compromise between the current undergraduate system of engineering education and the professional school model that physicians and lawyers adopted long ago.

    • Again, in most countries, professions like Medicine and Law are 5 year programs directly out of high school. For example, in Mexico, studying Medicine is a 5 year program, with a 1 year service/residency, and then a specialty which some people choose. Medicine is not a post-undergraduate program. They feel that there is no point taking classes in Art when you are studying to be a doctor. These schools are also WASC accredited, where plenty of American choose to study Medicine at schools like UNAM, UAG, and UABC, then take the state exam in where they plan to practice.

      With regarding to law, again, if someone is studying to be a lawyer, I feel they should not need to take classes like Calculus and Chemistry when they are focused on law.

      To me, raising the bar should be focused on the current programs to make them more successful, and not add another $30,000 debt to someone to have to take on a master’s program. It’s bad enough that college has gone up disgustingly high in a short time, now to add the cost of a master’s?!?

      You mentioned slide rules…well Engineers used to work on drafting boards as well (something I never did in school). Today, it’s AutoCAD and Microstation. I understand that times change, which is why the degree programs should change too.

      Maybe is primary Education (K-12) were reformed to compete with other countries, there would not be a need for General Education in the first place. Unfortunate, high school in the US is now a joke, where anyone can pass. Students are less prepared coming out of high school then they were decades ago, and compared to other countries as well.

  • Raising the Bar is about the future. I think the last thing anyone would want is for a future licensed engineer to be unqualified to design and build infrastructure that protects the public health and welfare, through no fault of their own. That could happen without sufficient required education. The body of knowledge has already increased tremendously, and credit hours required for graduation from college are much less than they were even a decade ago! I believe there will be overall positive consequences from requiring more education for future licensure.

  • Richard O. Anderson, P.E.

    I believe NCEES’ position is absolutely correct. It is almost trite to say our profession is changing because the whole world is changing. Further education beyond the BS degree is essential for an engineer that wants to remain relevant in the 21st century. Most of the undergraduates that I come in contact with are accepting of the fact, and even enthusiastically looking forward to acquiring the specialized knowledge that comes with the post-BS education.

  • Comments about enhanced salary and social status for civil engineers and the added costs to obtain advanced education in order to “Raise the Bar” are all valid. However, salary and status enhancements will not be accomplished by retaining current educational levels needed to obtain licensure.
    Over the years, the minimum credit requirements for the bachelor’s degree have been steadily declining. Today’s graduates, through no fault of their own, are often being given their B.S. degrees and sent out the door with 20 +/- less credits of classwork than their counterparts of a couple decades ago. Instead of multiple classes in thier desired areas of specialization some students today are graduating with only one semester of basic education in the area in which they desire to specialize. Multiple employers today are getting to the point that they will not hire a graduate with only a B.S. degree, especially in structures and geotechnical, because they have found that the depth and breadth of the B.S. education is no longer adequate to meet minimum skill and productivity levels needed by employers.
    Thus, at some point in the not too distant future, the skill set demands of employers may cause a defacto implementation of the “Raise the Bar” philosophy whether ASCE pushes for the cause or not. Along with this employer demand will come the higher salaries to help offset the added costs of additional levels of education needed for licensure. Added professional stature will arrive as the public begins to observe and understand that licensed civil engineers, like doctors and other learned professionals, have obtained and use only the very highest levels of educational competence in their work.
    While ASCE is leading the charge for strengthening the minimum skill sets needed for licensure the truth is that ASCE is simply advocating for what many in the civil engineering “industry” are already implementing. Namely that the requirements for licensure of civil engineers need to be strengthened in order for the civil engineers of the future to be adequately prepared to meet the needs of thier employers and to offer to clients and the general public projects which have been developed using the best available skill sets to ensure a top quality product.
    Raising the bar is a necessity.

  • The only consequence to this increased requirement is more student loans, less earning time, and no increase in average salaries. Bad idea by a bunch of intellectuals sitting behind a desk who have no clue how the real world works.

  • Having undertaken the graduate courses to obtain my Masters after working in industry for multiple years, one thing has become blatantly clear. Learning from a textbook can only take you so far as opposed to work force experience. As NCEES already requires real worldly professional experience to sit for the exam I believe it is robbing many excellent engineers of the option to becoming fully licensed. In the time I have waited to take the exam, many if my fellow engineers have become happily married, started families and begun living what they worked four years to earn. With this concept becoming a reality for MS degree requirements many will never find the time or, as many others have mentioned, the money to complete this time consuming and costly graduate education.
    I am a strong believer in higher education and building on the knowledge obtained through real world work. Requiring this additional level of education though will not result in better prepared PE’s offering safer social solutions but rather fewer realistic, logical thinkers performing skyline changing cutting edge designs.

  • My wife recalled the decade that the aircraft industry took a down turn and aero-space designers were made into Civil Engineers in an instant. After all a designer of an airframes must be able to design/construct airfields? Then there are all the continuing education classes required [having civil licenses, water/wastewater licenses, a planner’s license and tickets to teach both science and mathematics, I spend great amounts of time [and dollars] earning the next year’s credits. Most of which never are classy enough to apply toward yet another degree.

    Perhaps requiring a master’s degree needs a deep, system/career wide look/study? How about levels of licensing, steps? After all, after earning my degree and passing the EIT I still had to spend years working under a PE [try finding a real one when working overseas]. The pay was kept low and the hours long, then you eventully entered yet a far different marketplace where the hours were long and the legal exposure was beyound belief.

    If changes are made, make them system wide as any good planner would advise.

  • In my opinion, passage of this position statement and its ultimate adoption by State Licensing Boards will help Professional Engineers to meet increasing and unpredicable challenges they will face in the future. Therefore, it represents a win-win-win for individual engineers, our profession, and our nation.

  • I am pleased that the NCEES affirmed this important position statement recognizing that engineering, and life, are getting much more complicated. Pharmacists get more education today because the drug industry is more complex. Accountants get more education today because the tax code is increasingly more complicated and the machinations of corporate finance (including construction financing, by the way) are very detailed. We, who protect public health safety and welfare, are no different. The codes and regulations are more complex, and the societal implications and expectations of engineers are more intense.
    To Mr. Mincek and Mr. Bishop – A recent study on workforce by Georgetown University demonstrated clearly that an engineer with a Master’s Degree has a median salary more than 30% higher than an engineer with a Bachelor’s degree. Education is an investment that pays off, not a cost. That doesn’t mean that your employer will give you a raise when you finish your MS, it means that the engineer with a Master’s Degree has an expanded skill set and moves through a different, higher paid, career path. Aside from that, and most importantly, if the education is necessary for competent practice, then we need to get the education. Medical school is outrageously expensive (I just helped a daughter through medical school), but I don’t want to go to a doctor that skipped a couple of years of school to save some money. Education has value.
    To David – Engineers are professionals and we practice in the context of the public. Most of us interact with the public and need a broad understanding of how society works and how our projects impact the public. We only get that through education in political science, community planning, history and other social sciences. Most of us manage people, and need background in human relationships and psychology. For those strictly technical people who work on our teams, and never interact with clients, city councils, regulatory agencies, legislators, bankers, insurance companies, and lawyers, and who don’t deal with big-picture project planning and impacts, a technical-only, nuts and bolts education is sufficient. For the professional engineer, who deals with all of these things and is increasingly asked to address societal impacts, we shouldn’t short change our broader education. (Note that all other professionals – lawyers, doctors, accountants, social workers, etc. ) recognize this.
    We need to focus on the future, and the needs of the future. The engineer in 2050 will not be dealing with the world that we deal with. They will have new constraints, new materials and methods, new financing models, and a higher public expectation. NCEES recognized that last week, and I applaud them. ASCE recognized that in 1995, and has been working in that direction, leading the entire engineering profession, for 20 years. I appreciate ASCE’s leadership and forward thinking.

  • Is the salary going to increase to be commensurate with the education that will be required? Maybe ASCE should start having an obligation to the Civil Engineer to help get an increase in salary and a social status that is once had. Seems to work for the Bar Association and AMA.

  • It’s easy to make a position statement. What is harder is understanding the unintended consequences that result. The ability to obtain financial backing for ever increasing graduate tuition and the fact that most practical engineering education is obtained outside of the classical classroom are definite challenges to this position.

  • Although I understand the concept and idea of proposing requiring higher education for PE licensure, I think there should be a different approach in my opinion. I believe that we should mimic other countries’ higher education ways, where the 4 or 5 programs of what an undergraduate degree is solely focused on the major. In other words, they don’t waste their time taking 2 years of general education classes–someone studying to be a Civil Engineer isn’t taking history, art, social science, or psychology. Instead, they take all courses offered in the Civil Degree department. This actually is advantageous because you are not limited to a few classes where you have to focus on a specialty. Instead, you get 4 o r 5 years of all Civil Engineering related classes.

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