NCEES Endorses Future-Focused Position on Educational Requirements for Licensure

August 24, 2015

During the annual meeting of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying in Williamsburg, VA, last week, delegates voted to adopt a position statement that reiterates the NCEES stance on increased educational requirements for engineering licensure.

The position statement identifies several future pathways by which a candidate for licensure as a professional engineer might obtain the body of knowledge needed to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Among those pathways to be eligible for professional licensure in the future are earning an accredited bachelor’s degree in engineering followed by an engineering master’s degree, or earning an accredited bachelor’s degree and then at least 30 semester hours of appropriate upper-level undergraduate or graduate-level coursework in engineering inside or outside the university environment.

The concept of increased-education requirements for future licensure is in line with a key goal of the ASCE-backed Raise the Bar initiative, intended to better prepare civil engineers of the 21st century for a changing world. ASCE first approved its own policy statement on the educational requirements for licensure (Policy Statement 465 – Academic Prerequisites for Licensure and Professional Practice) in 1998 and supported passage of the NCEES position statement.

“We were excited that the Council decided to maintain this position supporting the idea that as we move into the future, engineers will need to have a broader and deeper educational background to meet the demands that will be placed on them,” said Blaine Leonard, P.E, D.GE, Pres.10.ASCE, chair of the ASCE Raise the Bar Committee.

“Regulations have increased; standards of practice have improved; technology has advanced. There’s a lot more civil engineers need to know now in order to practice effectively. We’re just concerned that engineers of the future have the tools they’ll need to practice effectively, and we believe licensure is the gateway to that practice.”

According to the position statement’s rationale, the approved language fulfills NCEES’s “responsibility to recommend changes to the licensure process that will ensure protection of the health, safety, and welfare of the public now and in the future as described in the NCEES strategic plan and in the mission and vision statements.”

According to the position statement, “NCEES will continue to explore alternative educational pathways for candidates for licensure as professional engineers to develop the body of knowledge needed for entry into the profession. These alternatives will be developed through collaboration with technical engineering societies and other stakeholders engaged with the engineering profession.”

ASCE 2015 President Bob Stevens offers his President’s Perspective on the NCEES annual meeting.

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  • Avatar 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 thousandth 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 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.

  • I graduated near the bottom of my class…I previously attended a military academy and then went home for college with no scholarship opportunity so I worked 60 hours a week to pay my way through school. My grades suffered because I did not have the luxary of having my way paid by parents or scholorships. I believe the approach suggested is flawed. Every single entry level engineer I have seen since my career started was woefully inexperienced, including myself. I was fortunate to receive thorough training during my initial engineering career and was fortunate that I entered engineering with several years of actual construction field experience. That being said, I was not ready for real world consulting. I was “beaten” and forced to grow up while learning real world practice…actual learning and not just an exercise in theory. There is no single solution but real world experience where your career is on the line by each and every decision you make puts a pressure on an individual that ensures the lessons are learned. This cannot be learned in school regardless of the rigidity of the structure. Battle makes a soldier “seasoned” and no amount of training can prepare an individual for the fight…the ideals and procedures are simply instilled to the fullest point that it all becomes second nature when it really matters. Such a thing is not academic and certainly is not just another college loan for the sake of checking a box on a form. If additional requirements are to be made, make them “real world” changes. Also, why don’t we make a consistent engineering registration system across the country first?!

  • To those who oppose this movement, what level of education do you want the structural engineers to have that will design the bridges your children and grandchildren will drive over and the buildings they will occupy? For those that are interested in my background–to better understand my perspective and biases, I have practiced for a decade, primarily in the design of signature bridges. Although I received a Masters degree prior to practicing, I still had a number of deficiencies. Speaking to my discipline, allowing engineers with a BS degree only to design critical structures such as bridges and occupied buildings is unacceptable.

    I am very happy to see the NCEES making strides toward requiring master’s degree to practice engineering. A masters degree should be the minimum for practicing structural engineering, ESPECIALLY where life safety is an issue, i.e. occupied buildings and bridges. As Blaine discussed, the depth of the (structural) studies afforded an undergraduate falls exceedingly short of being able to design such critical structures. Although the prior comments expressing opposition to this movement make legitimate arguments, I agree with Blaine’s comments entirely and urge others to consider the positive aspects and the improved reputation, and most importantly the quality of our infrastructure that will result from “Raising the Bar”.

  • Avatar Brad Aldrich, PE, F.ASCE

    I also want to applaud NCEES for their leadership on this matter. This is a forward thinking view of the needs of our profession. Everry other profession has already concluded that a bachelor’s degree shouldn’t be the first professional degree and has taken action. Its time for the engineering profession to do the same. For those of us well into the twilight of our careers, we must understand that this isn’t about us and our ability to practice competently. It’s about the new graduates who enter a profession with an ever-expanding body of knowledge needed to meet our charge of protecting public health, safety and welfare. As an employer of newly minted engineering graduates, I can see the gaps. I offer them what I can as they gain progressive engineering experience, but frankly I don’t feel four years of experience is enough. Masters degreed engineers step up faster and demonstrate higher competence ealier in their progression. I’ve seen first hand, engineers get licensed before I felt they were truly ready. Education, experience and examination arre the three legs of the licensure stool. All three must be strong and one cannot overrcompensate for the other. I encourage NCEES and other forward-thinking leaders to continue to advocate for this important initiative to advance the professional practice of engineering.

  • I wholeheartedly endorse passage of NCEE’s policy statement supporting additional education requirements for engineers. As a faculty member and consultant for nearly 20 years, I am keenly aware of the importance of both formal education and experience for successful professional engineering practice. I have also noted over the years the increasing technical complexity of the work that I carry out as a consultant, much of which is not taught in conventional four-year degree programs. Whether this involves complex data analysis, computer modeling and simulation, or risk assessment, I know that these subjects and many others are not taught sufficiently in undergraduate engineering degree programs, which struggle as it is to fit in the essential elements of a well-rounded education in four years. It is plain that the future will require a much broader and deeper knowledge base for engineers. Accountants, doctors and layers have figured this out and it is time that we engineers catch up.

    I recall a conversation that I had with my older daughter when she was choosing what to study in college. She decided on a degree program that will keep her in school for at least 7 to 8 years, in part due to the challenge that such a path represents. In conversations with my undergraduate civil engineering students, it is clear that most of them understand the need to continue their formal education after receiving their B.S. degree. I have yet to hear complaints about costs or time involved. When asked whether they see themselves pursuing a M.S. degree or other formal education, the vast majority raises their hand. It seems that they already know what will be required of them and have accepted it.

  • I applaud NCEES for having the foresight to adopt this policy and maintain it’s focus on the future. The world is getting more complex and numerous detailed studies conclude that we simply can’t fit all of that necessary education into a BS anymore. It worked for the past generation, it won’t work for the future.
    To dispel a few myths: Engineering education is an investment, not a cost. A detailed workforce study by Georgetown University demonstrated that an engineer with a master’s degree earns a median salary 30% higher than an engineer with a bachelor’s degree. That doesn’t mean that his/her employer will give them a 30% raise when they earn their MS, it means that the extra skill set gained from that education will put that person on a different, more accelerated career path with higher compensation. The pay off is clearly there. An undergraduate education teaches a person to solve problems (given in textbook form). A graduate education teaches an engineer to evaluate conditions and scenarios and develop solutions. Secondly, detailed studies of other professions (ALL of whom have recognized the exploding body of knowledge and have increased their educational requirements) show that an increased educational requirement DOES NOT deter students from pursuing that path. A study of accountants is clear in that conclusion. Today’s young people, if they want to be a professional, are not afraid of the education required to get there. If we want bright, motivated young students, raising the bar will attract them, not deter them. Thirdly, none of this removes or detracts from the importance of practical experience. We clearly learn things there that we couldn’t learn in the classroom. But, that experience is without foundation and less instructive if we don’t have the tools to understand what we are learning, which comes from education. If that were not the case, we would still have the “apprentice” model, where we come out of high school and learn from a master craftsman.
    Let’s look forward and make sure engineers who will practice in 2050 have the right background to do so. And, let’s enhance the profession with adequate professional education.

  • Does work experience mean nothing now a days? I would be hard pressed to even consider getting my masters degree when I feel like I can get much more experience and knowledge from actually working. I have worked two summers as an intern and going into my last year for my bachelors degree and I feel way more prepared for a career with my two summers worth of work experience than I do with my three years of schooling I have so far. I disagree with this push for higher standards, I feel like it is an effort to increase graduate level enrollment than it is to better prepare entering engineers. I would say consider other options if the board wants to change requirements for a PE license.

  • In general I agree with Mr. Conrad, but as technology and project complexity progresses so must understanding.

  • Raising the bar to obtain PE registration has advantages and disadvantages. Based on my nearly 60 years of experience, I believe requiring a MS degree has more disadvantages than advantages. By requiring students to spend 5 or 6 years in college, considering the cost to attend college, would be a major disincentive for students to enroll in engineering, and we already have a shortage of students enrolling in engineering.

    Secondly, when I was enrolled in a masters program in engineering, taking two courses each semester and working full time (to support myself and family), I dropped out of the masters program because I could learn more and better myself as an engineer by focusing more attention on my job. This was one of my better decisions.

    I am fully supportive of PE Boards requiring continuing education. Those continuing education requirements are more effective than requiring additional attendance at a university. Making the continuing education more extensive would be a more productive approach to increase education than another year or two of college.

    I have been a principal in a consulting engineering firm for 45 years, and have worked closely with hundreds of engineers. As can be expected, some engineers have been superior to others. These differences have not been based on their level of education, but on their individual traits.

  • The main issue with this is people like money. A highschool or college student, when making a career path choice, will now weigh a 6-7 year education in engineering, which will still pay a starting salary of ~45k, or a 6-7 year financial, medical, or legal education to receive a starting salary 75-100% higher. The goal of raising the bar for entry into the engineering field is valid, but you will not attract new minds if you retain paltry entry level salaries. Several engineering fields already suffer from high turnover rates. The age of the multi-decade employee is dead. Why? We all know the best way to get a raise or promotion is to quit. Now we are pushing this reward problem down to the lower ranks as well.

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