Resolved: We Must Raise the Bar to Advance the Profession

July 6, 2016
President Mark Woodson and Executive Director Tom Smith stand atop the newly dedicated international historic landmark Cape Agulhas Lighthouse in South Africa.

The past 10 months have brought clear and unmistakable statements from organizations at the heart of licensure: The future education of P.E.s can’t remain stuck in a century-old holding pattern.

At its recent annual meeting in Dallas, the National Society of Professional Engineers’ House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly to approve an updated policy that “supports the concept of engineering licensure candidates meeting additional academic or other educational requirements as a prerequisite for engineering licensure.” The vote was 77 to 17 in favor, with delegates from only eight states opposing. Leading up to that decision, both the NSPE Board of Directors and the Past President’s Council had deliberated the issue and voted without dissent to support the updated policy.

Less than a year ago, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, the organization representing engineering licensing boards, voted by a nearly two thirds margin to adopt a position statement affirming that the “future demands for increasing technical and professional skills have resulted in the need for additional education beyond the bachelor’s degree for those entering the engineering profession.”

I hope you notice a pattern here.

The engineering groups that deal with the future of licensure know that we need to align engineering education to a changing world. The complexity of engineering practice continues to explode while the credit hours required to obtain an engineering bachelor’s degree continue to decline. Something has to give. Future licensed professional engineers are going to need additional foundational background through formal education.

All this affirms again what a major National Academy of Engineering report said over a decade ago: “The exploding body of science and engineering knowledge cannot be accommodated within the context of the traditional four-year baccalaureate degree.”

The need for more education is clear. Our focus remains how and when to implement this change. We believe the standard should require future civil engineers to have an accredited bachelor’s degree, and either an engineering master’s degree or 30 graduate/upper-level technical/professional practice credits plus appropriate experience.

In advance of the NSPE vote, I wrote then-NSPE President Tim Austin expressing ASCE’s support for passing the updated Policy 168, but also noting ASCE’s concern about whether academic rigor and examination would be sufficient when the NSPE policy refers to pre-licensure “professional development education.”

It’s time for the next step in building the future of our profession and protecting the public health, safety and welfare. It’s time to Raise the Bar for civil engineering.

  • Brad Aldrich should read the many comments that precede his, in particular the comment by Steven Adams about hyperbole.
    Here is the question. What is the benefit to cost ratio of a master’s degree? Is it greater than 1.00?
    In prior comments, Mr. Aldrich has noted himself as an employer. Does his pay scale show that those with a master’s degree earn sufficient additional income to provide a good return on that education dollar?
    Lots of questions which need answers. The costs are not hyperbole.
    Mr. Aldrich and the many committees should listen to the many voices of experience.
    There are many costs to requiring a master’s degree as a basis for professional engineer licensure. The committees are not addressing those costs.

  • As a past president of NSPE and active member of ASCE, I’ve been a champion of a master’s degree for licensure for a long time. NSPE, ASCE and NCEES have all recognized that change is needed to protect public health, safety and welfare. I understand the arguments of those who are opposed to this higher standard for licensure, but I would ask them to consider the following: 1. This is not about us. No one is saying our education was inadequate and we are not competent to practice. 2. This is all about the future of our profession. Whether we like it or not, credit hours are declining for a bachelor’s degree and no one can deny that the body of knowledge we need to competently practice is ever-expanding. This knowledge simply cannot be all covered in today’s bachelor’s program. And no, ABET can’t fix it! 3. Every other learned profession (medicine, law, pharmacy, architecture, accountancy, etc.) has adopted a higher educational standard for licensure. Why do we think we’re special and that what is needed for those professions doesn’t apply to ours?

  • I have a MSCE and recently obtained my PE license. I do not feel that getting the MSCE made me any better of an engineer. Rising tuition costs will mean that those who want to become licensed engineers in the future must pull out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to get a post graduate education if the licensing requirements are changed. I feel that a BSCE is sufficient to give new engineers the foundation of knowledge that they need, but the real learning takes place on the job. Many of my professors from the universities that I attended were not licensed engineers and had never worked a day in the real engineering profession. I agree that the BSCE curriculum has become diluted with unnecessary and impractical coursework. It would be best to focus our attention on making the coursework more usable than requiring more of the same theoretical and impractical classes be attended in order to obtain a PE license.

  • Avatar Eric R. Woodhouse

    Education is vital and the basis for a degree. However, until a candidate has had an equal and thorough amount of “field experience”, practical application and real world involvement, claiming the title of P.E. should be truncated or designated with an *. Too many times I have been engaged on a project where the designer prepared beautiful documents and design that were impractical to accomplish or impossible to make viable. Education should not only be in the classroom. Practicing professionals with many years are far more valuable and capable than academicians whom have never constructed anything. Testing should be opened to those whom have labored to obtain the base knowledge and then have “paid their dues” through as many years of practical involvement, outside of a classroom or summer internships. If an additional 16 hours of education are in order to obtain the basic degree, then it should be done to accommodate the changing world. But experience trumps education in most cases, in my humble opinion.

  • I concur with those that state more education is not the answer, unless that means requiring more credits to graduate. Why have the requirements for an undergraduate degree been weakened? I learned much more about what was entailed in being an engineer working summers and talking to others in the profession while I was in school than I did in some of my classes. In soils class we were using a soil test machine from the Corps of Engineers that took 24-36 hours to process a sample. I asked the graduate assistant if he had ever heard of a Speedy Moisture Tester and got a blank stare! Academics are fine in their place, but getting out and getting the job done is a much better teacher. One of my professors once told us that what makes you an engineer is the knowledge of knowing where to look for answers. Requiring more time in the classroom only creates less time for more practical learning at the practical level. I am retired after spending over 35 years working as a project inspector, resident engineer, area engineer, quality control manager and assisting on a mega project management team. I am proud of all that I accomplished and helped accomplish. And I did it all with a BSCE degree, common sense application, and treating people fairly.

  • Taking a statement from the article, “The complexity of engineering practice continues to explode while the credit hours required to obtain an engineering bachelor’s degree continue to decline. Something has to give. Future licensed professional engineers are going to need additional foundational background through formal education.” it appears that perhaps some of the issue could be addressed by removing certifications from the educational institutions that choose to weaken their degree standards. I am not a proponent of weakening a bachelor’s degree just to increase the number of graduates. NSPE, NCEES, and ASCE should not seek the political correctness and acceptance “pattern” by supporting weakened bachelor level standards and passing them on to a master degree level requirement.

  • I somewhat disagree. I was a consulting civil engineer for 35 years. I found most of my engineering education was on the job. Increasing engineering education could be accomplished within the current system by increasing the number of hours required to graduate by 10 – 15 hours and eliminating some required classes like thermodynamics and differential equations. They are just not used by civil engineers. Classes should be tailored to the real world.
    Thank You,

  • Avatar Arnold Aronowitz

    Education is critical. The question is what to learn.
    One can not be a good PE unless he understands what a PE is responsible for.
    Unfortunately the answer to that question is too complex to answer simply and to legislate to obtain a PE license.
    I had been counselling graduates as to how to advance their education to make them more productive and effective in their professions.
    There are no good answers. Most of what I learn and have learned was self motivated or guided by my supervisors. I am a PE, have advanced degree, learned at advanced level at major institutions, conducted research, worked in academia and assisted in constructing major projects.
    Requiring more education in the abstract will not advance our profession. It will just result individuals to spend more time and money and in the end not be anymore respected or compensated.
    Most people that we hired had Masters or Doctorate degrees but not all of them. Additionally most people learned more on the job than in the University. My field is specialized but the main problem is that Undergraduate Degrees have been watered down. So much of what I learned as an Undergraduate is now taught at the graduate level. Mentoring of young engineers, once employed, by good engineers is very important, rotating them to learn different technical specialties, attending technical meetings and seminars, project management, contract preparation etc..
    Generally deciding what to and when to learn is better to postpone after the young engineer is employed.
    Engineering is not academic.

  • The NSPE’s House of Delegates’ vote is not representative of the licensed Engineer community at-large.
    Just change the Exam requirements and teach the test (in four years). It’s pretty simple.
    The “exploding body of science and engineering knowledge” is merely hyperbole and non-specific.
    I smell a conspiracy with education professionals and universities to drive up the cost of engineering education even more for want-to-be engineers. What’s really and inexplicably exploding is tuition costs.

  • Avatar Robert H. Seay, P.E., Life Member-ASCE

    Comment on Woodson, Mark, “Resolved: We Must Raise the Bar to Advance the Profession.”
    This requirement for more education is long overdue. What is expected and actually required of a licensed professional engineer is the ability to communicate to multiple audiences; clients, media, other professionals, peers, public, and to demonstrate the ability to lead a multi-disciplinary professional team.

    I am retired now, but still follow the trends in the profession. I received a BSCE in 1960, professional registration in 1965 and a Master of Science in Engineering in 1969. It was not until after I gained the master of science in engineering degree that I started finding positions which allowed me to truly function as a professional engineer. Until then, my positions did not allow me to make project changing decisions.

    Qualifications should not stop with post-graduate education. Licensing examinations should include testing communication and management stills.

    Obviously the requirement for added education and testing will have to be phased in so that those already in the system can complete their licensing process.

    Robert H. Seay, P.E. Life Member ASCE

  • I understand fully the need for more education. I needed 136 hours to get a BSCE in 1969. Today many BSCE degrees are given with only 120 hours. 16 hours are 5 high-level courses that are no longer required. I also have an MSE in environmental (24 hours + thesis) and feel very qualified to use my PE with confidence that with initial education and continuing education the public safety is well protected.

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