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The Technology Benchmark: Higher Education for Surveyors

May 14, 2008
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As a professor at George Mason University (GMU), I have learned about some changes afoot in the education requirements for professional engineers, some of which I think should be addressed for the surveying profession.

Some of the most effective surveyors are those with both field and office knowledge.

Changing Requirements for Engineers

Last year, our Civil and Infrastructure Engineering program at GMU went through the ABET Inc. re-accreditation process. At our previous accreditation in 2000, GMU reduced the requirements to achieve a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering (BSCE) from 135 credit hours to 120. This seemed to be in line with ABET requirements. To complete the previous requirement of 135 credit hours in four years was an arduous task that required students to take an average of 17 credit hours each semester--more than a full load. So, many students took longer than four years to graduate.

When queried as to the reasoning behind this reduction, our ABET representative said there were two trains of thought. The first was that these were minimum requirements, and each university could elect to retain its own level of qualifications. Different universities have different goals--some are highly theoretical, and others are more practical. So, each institution should choose the courses that best serve its community. The second train of thought was that the engineering profession would someday require a graduate-level degree--at least a master’s degree--to become a professionally licensed engineer.

I spoke with Michael S. Bronzini, PhD, PE, chair of GMU’s Department of Civil, Environmental & Infrastruc-ture Engineering, to learn more about the impetus for these changes. “In GMU’s case, all bachelor programs were limited by the state of Virginia not to exceed 120 hours,” Bronzini explained. This education, he said, was to be augmented by 30 hours of additional graduate education as set forth in a policy by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) for the future practice of civil engineering. The ASCE recommends which modules of education should be attained at the B.S. level and others that should be attained at the graduate level.[1] The mechanism for certifying the graduate-level courses is still being explored.

“Many of the people who are against increasing the educational requirements for civil engineers object on the basis of requiring a pure master’s degree. In actuality, they only need 30 hours of appropriate graduate study,” Bronzini said. “Of course the master’s would suffice, but many people would like to work in order to build up their experience component required for licensure while they attend various graduate studies. The master’s program is sometimes perceived as too restrictive.” He also suggested that some courses may be non-academic yet still acceptable to state boards of licensure. According to Bronzini, the main difference between having a master’s degree and completing 30 hours of graduate work is that the research-oriented degrees have the added requirement of writing a research-based thesis.

These additional requirements do have the potential to reduce the number of licensed engineers in the country, although Bronzini noted that he only sees that effect in the short term. “Due to the high level of technological and other demands on today’s civil engineers, this would be remedied for two reasons,” he said. “First, we need this additional education to cope with the requirements of the field. And second, as more graduate-level people move into positions of power, they will see the benefits of the education and push for it.”

In the eight years following our 2000 ABET re-accreditation at GMU, several changes have occurred at the national level and the state level. In September 2006, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), a national nonprofit organization composed of all of the engineering and surveying licensing boards, voted to increase the amount of education an engineer must have to become licensed in his or her profession.

This issue was studied for five years prior to the change, and the NCEES announced:

“The approved language states that an engineer intern with a bachelor’s degree must have an additional 30 credits of acceptable upper-level undergraduate or graduate-level coursework from approved providers in order to be admitted to the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) examination.”[2]

In fact, the rules for engineering licensure by examination now call for several education-related options. Essentially, to qualify for a license, an individual’s education and experience must match one of the following requirements:

1. A B.S. in engineering with 30 hours of acceptable graduate work and four years of experience.

2. A B.S. in engineering with a master’s degree and three years of experience.

3. A doctorate and two years of experience.

While it is interesting that the NCEES voted for this educational policy, it is more interesting to note that one state has now passed the first law making this policy official. Earlier this year, Nebraska passed Legislative Bill 742, which contains a provision that shows a close correlation with the NCEES policy--and also includes an effective date on the action.

“(d) On and after January 1, 2015, a graduate of an Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology accredited (i) baccalaureate-level engineering curriculum with an additional thirty credit hours of upper-level undergraduate coursework or graduate-level coursework approved by the Board of Engineers and Architects or (ii) masters-level engineering curriculum, enrolled as an engineer-intern, and having a specific record of an additional four years or more of progressive post-baccalaureate-degree experience on engineering projects of a grade and a character which indicates to the board that the applicant may be competent to practice engineering shall be admitted to an eight-hour examination, administered by the board, on the principles and practice of engineering.”[3]

The Affect on Surveyors

Although I am anticipating that other states will follow fairly quickly, it is breaking news to many people that the education requirements for engineers are being increased for the first time in many years. One hope is that salaries might rise as a result. “There is already a reported precedent that those with master’s degrees tend to make more than those with a bachelor’s degree,” Bronzini said. He then added, “Because salaries could lead to rising fees, some work traditionally done by civil engineers could now possibly fall into the hands of surveyors who have the appropriate licenses.” I think this is something surveyors should take particular note of.

If a surveyor has a Class B Survey license in Virginia, he or she can design subdivisions to the extent that they use standard drainage structures. In the future, if a developer typically uses an engineering firm and the fees are raised too high, a surveyor may be able to take on this work with the appropriate license at the surveyor’s fee level. This may be an unanticipated ramification to the new engineering requirements.

Another possibility that I see on the horizon is a realignment of work. It could be that the professional engineer becomes a general contractor for the engineering world, one who oversees the work of less-qualified staff. This would include the designers, those with BSCE degrees and Engineers in Training who do not possess the requisite higher education and a professional license yet perform the majority of the design work on a project. For example, we already see this in the medical field where doctors oversee licensed practical nurses (LPNs), registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs). An interesting concept would be a PE with a master’s degree who oversees a staff of civil engineers with bachelor’s degrees as well as technicians and draftspeople. According to Bronzini, something similar to this is currently occurring. “We are seeing growth in the offshore market where people in foreign countries are now being asked to perform design and drafting for American projects,” he explained. “The engineering firm acts as a specification provider, overseer and quality control supervisor, all the while taking responsible charge of the project.”

Parallels to Surveying

If you review the NCEES policy for surveying licensure, you will see some strong similarities with the policy for engineering licensure. NCEES currently calls for at least a four-year degree (although there are other options that are less expedient to obtain a license). I think we should continue to consider the importance that education has in this field, especially in terms of the theories and algorithms a professional must be acquainted with.

The various state boards want to raise the status of engineers in society and are using education as the primary means to accomplish that. Since many surveyors also want to achieve a similar rise in stature, perhaps hard-and-fast education requirements are the key. If surveyors aren’t proactive, they may find themselves in a new business environment.


References

1- As found in the ASCE “Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge for the 21st Century: Preparing the Civil Engineer for the Future,” Second Edition online at www.asce.org/files/pdf/professional/BOK2E_(ASCE_2008)_ebook.pdf .

2- www.ncees.org/news/index.php?release_id=1

3- www.awwaneb.org/articles/2008%20news/LB742.pe.licenses.pdf

Sidebar 1: Current State Requirements

Many states have moved toward requiring a certain level of education to become a licensed surveyor. For instance, although Maryland allows for licensing under several scenarios, the most expedient track is to get a four-year degree. The path toward licensure from the Maryland Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, State Board for Professional Land Surveyors states that an applicant qualifies if he or she:

1. Has been graduated from a college or university on completion of at least a 4-year curriculum in land surveying that the Board approves;

2. Has passed a written examination in the fundamentals of land surveying;

3. Has at least 2 years of experience in land surveying that is satisfactory to the Board and that indicates to the Board that the applicant may be competent to practice land surveying; and

4. Passed a written examination in the principles and practice of land surveying.

Another example is the licensure requirements for the state of New York. The licensing requirements upheld by the New York State Education Department Office of the Professions require the following of applicants:

Education: have received an education, including a bachelor’s or higher degree based on a program in land surveying, in accordance with the commissioner’s regulations.

Experience: (a) If the applicant has a bachelor’s or higher degree, have at least four years in work satisfactory to the board, provided that the board may accept study beyond the bachelor’s degree in partial fulfillment of this requirement; or (b) If the applicant has an associate’s degree, have at least six years in work satisfactory to the board provided that the board may accept study beyond the associate’s degree in partial fulfillment of this requirement.

Examination: pass an examination satisfactory to the board and in accordance with the commissioner’s regulations.

Sources:

Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation, Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, www.dllr.state.md.us/license/land_surv/lsreq.htm#305 ; New York State Education Department, Office of the Professions, www.op.nysed.gov/article145.htm.

Sidebar 2: International Requirements

Some international movements are under way to require a four-year degree for licensure as a surveyor.

To practice surveying at the professional level in Canada, an individual must be licensed (or commissioned as they call it) by the association in the candidate’s jurisdiction of practice. Although each association may have its own criteria for licensing candidates, there are many common elements to these criteria. All require that a candidate obtain certain academic qualifications at the university level. The recommended path to a commission is via a recognized and accredited university degree in geomatics. Other paths include combinations of post-secondary education at the university, technical institute or college level combined with syllabus examinations. The concept of syllabus examinations is interesting in that they are intended to provide a university equivalent level of knowledge in the subject area.

In Australia, it is pretty clear that a degree is the preferred method to attain licensure. According to the Land Surveyors Licensing Board of Western Australia, the requirements for registration as a land surveyor include an approved degree in surveying and a Certificate of Competency. The requirements for a Certificate of Competency are two years of training under a professional training agreement with a licensed surveyor, an application of survey law examination, practical examinations, projects and a professional interview.

Sources:

Canadian Board of Examiners for Professional Surveyors (CBEPS), http://cbeps-cceag.ca/cms/ ; Land Surveyors Licensing Board of Western Australia, www.lslb.wa.gov.au/registration_requirements.html

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