A recently approved educational change to be required for an engineering license in the U.S. won’t take effect until 2015, but the debate over its ramifications is already dividing practitioners and academicians across the country.

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, which develops license exams administered by 55 boards across the U.S. and territories, last month voted to extend by 30 the number of extra credit-hours that B.S-degreed engineers must have before being allowed to take the test. The vote came at the council’s annual meeting, in Anchorage.

The Model Law Change:
Who Can Get A License?

Engineer intern with a B.S. degree, with    an additional 30 credits of acceptable upper-level undergraduate or graduate-level coursework from approved course providers, and with an additional 4 years or more of progressive experience on engineering projects of a grade and character which indicate to the board that the applicant may be competent to practice engineering.

Engineer intern with a master’s degree in engineering from an institution that offers EAC/ABET accredited programs, or the equivalent, and with a specific record of an additional 3 years or more of...

Engineer intern with a doctorate in engineering acceptable to the board and with a specific record of an additional 2 years or more of...

An individual with a doctorate in engineering acceptable to the board and with a specific record of an additional 4 years or more of... 

Source: National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES)

“We have not kept pace academically,” says Jerry Carter, associate executive director of Clemson, S.C.-based NCEES and a former state licensing board director. He says economic pressures have influenced states to shrink the number of required credit-hours for graduation, “from 150 a few decades ago to an average of 128.” Yet there is growing concern that engineering curricula are already short-shrifted, particularly with demand for more business, communication and other courses, he adds. Officials say the state of Texas is considering legislation that would cap required hours to 120.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has pushed changes to civil engineering curricula that would produce a more well-rounded practitioner through its Body of Knowledge effort and has been a proponent of NCEES’ “Model Law” revision (ENR 12/6/04 p. 26). “We are moving in a direction to expect additional education in the future to allow the profession to proactively adapt to a changing world,” says BOK activist Jeffrey S. Russell, civil engineering chair at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “Expecting more education in the future will attract students who want to be part of a profession and not a trade.”

NCEES members approved the additional coursework requirement in a 39-to 27 vote. The change now must be adopted and implemented by all local licensing boards, a lengthy and tedious process. Carter says none have yet done so.

But some engineers say the vote does not make the education change a done deal. They claim that the new requirements are vague and could thwart graduates from the profession. The September NCEES vote, while far from unanimous, was positive compared to a council vote in 2005 when a measure to start the Model Law revision process barely squeaked through by three votes, say industry executives who attended.

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  • “There were too many unknowns,” says opponent John Burke, senior associate at Hazen and Sawyer, Jacksonville, and one of the state board’s 11 members. “The mobility of licenses across states would become a nightmare.” Alaska’s 10-member license board contingent is even more incensed, unanimously rejecting the change last month, says member Craig Fredeen, a licensed mechanical engineer who works for PDC Inc. Engineers, Anchorage. 

    “This is a huge hurdle placed in front of an engineer to get a license,” Fredeen says. Proponents “talk about graduate level engineering courses, but they don’t have a darn thing to do with what I do today.” He says this is an “accreditation issue” that should be handled by the engineering accrediting agency, ABET. In a Sept. 8 letter to NCEES and member boards, the Alaskan contingent cited steep time and cost impacts of gaining the 30+ credit-hours, which “will produce more harm than good for our profession,” members claim. The group promises a continued fight.

    Some other engineering disciplines also are opposed. In an Aug. 7 joint letter, presidents of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers said they were “disappointed” at the 2005 NCEES vote, that the Model Law change “will effectively shut down the licensing process of our two disciplines” and that it should be limited to civil engineers.

    Proponents of the additional credits are undaunted. “It is impossible to work out all the details in advance, but the NCEES vote will move us forward,” says Russell.