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Sight Lines: How Much Education Do Surveyors Need?

January 16, 2013
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Earlier this week, a reader sent me a link to a story about a Florida initiative to try to attract students into education programs for science, engineering and technical fields.

Earlier this week, a reader sent me a link to a story about a Florida initiative to try to attract students into education programs for science, engineering and technical fields. Audio from the interview with the former head of the governor's Education Task Force, Dr. Dale Brill, was posted with the article, and land surveying was one of the fields specifically mentioned as a high-demand career that could benefit from education reforms.

This is good news. However, the interview seemed to indicate that the emphasis in land surveying education, which was mentioned in the same breath as welding and other technical trades, should be shifted away from a four-year bachelor’s degree to an associate degree or certificate.

Brill, an education proponent and business advocate, said his comments were misconstrued. What he was trying to highlight, he said, was the flexibility provided by the state college programs, which offer four-year degrees as well as associate and certificate programs but are often overlooked in favor of the top-tier universities. With Florida’s licensing requirements mandating a minimum four-year degree in surveying and mapping or a four-year degree in another course of study with at least 25 semester hours in surveying and mapping subjects, it would be difficult to conceive that associate and certificate programs alone would allow the state to meet its needs for land surveyors. Brill emphasized that suggesting such an idea was not his intent.

Still, for the reader who sent me the link, it wasn’t a stretch to make that inference. A storm has been brewing in the surveying profession for quite some time. Some might say it has already struck, leaving a field strewn with struggling businesses and frustrated practitioners. Land surveying has long been a noble profession handed down through generations, from father to son or daughter, from mentor to apprentice. The education movement in some regions has been slow to catch on, in part due to a shortage of surveying programs that offer a four-year degree, but also, in some cases, due to a lack of perceived need. Do land surveyors really require a bachelor’s degree? Professionals remain divided on this topic.

Advocates of advanced education point to the increasing complexity of the field as a result of technological innovation. Understanding all the nuances of a changing profession clearly requires a broad-based approach that would be difficult-if not impossible-to obtain through an associate or certificate program. Opponents believe the education system is taking the profession in the wrong direction by emphasizing science over art, and technology over history.

This is a crucial time for a profession that must define itself in order to secure its place in the future. Although education is just one aspect of the debate, it’s an important one. Can the land surveying profession survive with the current approach to education? What else is needed to help the profession thrive with the next generation? How can education programs be tailored to attract more students and adequately prepare them for a successful career in surveying?

Professionals must come to a consensus on these issues, or there may soon come a day when land surveying truly is equated with welding. The future is at stake.
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