Examining the state of continuing education for surveyors.

In a poll conducted by POBin September 2002, 49 percent of 209 respondents said they are currently continuing their education or considering continuing their education. Perhaps they wish to keep up with the latest technology, practices and legislation. Or perhaps it is because their states mandate it.

Iowa was the first state in the country to mandate continuing education for professional land surveyors-in 1979. Today, several of the States-38 of 50 now-have passed such a rule. Even states supporting voluntary education for years are looking to a required status.

Illinois has encouraged voluntary continuing education for a number of years. As of a July 2002 decision, surveyors will be required to complete 20 Professional Development Hours (PDHs) by Nov. 30, 2004. According to Bob Church, executive director of the Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association (IPLSA), "People didn't see a reason to do it [obtain continuing education credits] voluntarily. What they received was a certificate saying that they did it. I guess that didn't have enough meaning."

Church says that if IPLSA surveyors go to both annual conferences in the two-year period they'll get enough credits to fulfill the 20 PDH requirement. Or they can take seminars offered through the state's 10 chapters. Church is trying to put together 50-minute programs at the chapter meetings where surveyors could qualify for credits. "It'll kill two birds with one stone," Church says. "If they're going to be there anyway, why not?" Perhaps Church's mindset parallels the rationale that mandatory continuing education would increase attendance numbers at local and state seminars.

Illinois' decision to mandate continuing education has been echoed by a few other states. Some states currently without mandatory continuing education laws are working toward implementing them. The Virginia Association of Surveyors Inc. (VAS), for example, has "fought a long and hard battle with the staff and leadership within Virginia's DPOR (Department of Professional and Occupation Regulation) for the last 10 years," says Frank "Chip" Richardson, II, VAS's Education Committee Chairman. "We have gone through many administrations within DPOR and changes in the governor's office. They have been staunchly against it." Richardson says the DPOR's reasons for its opposition of continuing education lean on the costs associated with administering the program and keeping records; maintaining a person(s) to keep and maintain the records; and that "not having continuing education in place will not affect the health, safety and welfare of the general public." Richardson said two Virginia Governor Orders have mandated fewer regulations on the public.

Contrary to Governor Orders, VAS and its members have been in favor of continuing education for a long time. "We see the great long-term benefits that could be achieved within the profession if it came into being," Richardson says. The current voluntary program for VAS members is an honor-based program with no accounting by VAS or any outside agency, and not many members have made use of it. The VAS recently appointed a new chairman for the Continuing Education Committee. Phil Nestor, a recent past president of VAS, is tasked with looking into the VAS' past efforts and with formulating a new plan of attack.

Washington is another state expecting to see the fruits of its fight for mandatory continuing professional development. The Land Surveyors Association of Washington (LSAW) passed legislation in 2002 for mandatory continuing professional development. As the purpose of its white paper states: "The laws governing surveying, the technology to perform surveys and the case laws that influence the surveyor's decisions change more rapidly each year. If a professional surveyor does not stay current with these changes, he puts the life, health, property and welfare of the public at risk. The Land Surveyors' Association of Washington in its role as public advocate, educational provider and supporter, arbitrator of surveyors' disputes, and in its liaison with government agencies, has seen first hand the need for continuing education in the surveying profession."

Washington surveyors claim fewer violations have occurred since the passing of its continuing education legislation. An increase in respect and valuable interaction among surveyors has been noticed, as has better communication between surveyors and state boards. Less complaints from the public have been logged. Overall, the new system is viewed as providing a general upgrade to the profession.

Under the new rule, Washington surveyors are required to complete 15 PDHs per year.*

Continuing Education Across the U.S. For a larger view of this map, click here.

Are Surveyors Learning?

Since the number of new licensees isn't strong from border to border, the reliance on good help from those already in the profession is eminent. Although many surveyors deem it necessary and beneficial to mandate continuing education, and although state boards approve seminars and other means of obtaining credits, some practitioners don't view the concept as positive in all ways.

"The requirement of continuing education credits can be a misnomer," says Roland Self, executive director of the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors (MSPS). "For example, if you and I were surveyors and we needed credits, we would attend a session. You take copious notes and pay attention. I read the newspaper. At the end of the session, we would each receive the same credit." Self recommends that a test be required to pass to receive any credit after a class. "It's not a popular concept, but education without some standards is not education to me," Self adds.

MSPS discussed mandating continuing education years ago with a plan to require about 20 hours every two years. The rule has not passed.

Pennsylvania has made efforts toward mandated continuing education as well, so far with no concrete results. Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors (PSLS) Committee Chair for Education, John G. Fuehrer, II, PE, PLS, said that PSLS proposed a law last year, but because of opposing views presented to the legislators, it was pulled.

"I'm trying to push continuing education through the system," Fuehrer says. "If you had a challenge of someone who had continuing education to someone who hasn't, you're most likely going to go with the guy who knows something."

But what about Self's perspective that students "pass through" the system? Fuehrer says he doesn't believe this is the case in Pennsylvania. Fuehrer says that even with the voluntary program, nearly 70 percent of PSLS members request certificates for completing Continuing Education Units (CEUs) at state conference seminars.

Credit Options

There are several ways to obtain continuing education credits across the states. Self study, active participation in state societies and distance education are but a few options.

Whatever methods used, the important thing is for surveyors to get those credits completed to maintain their licenses, to better the profession and to protect the public.

* Editor's Note:
Some of the information about Washington State in this article was published incorrectly. The rule for continuing education requirements is still in the proposal phase and has not yet been passed. The information quoted from the LSAW white paper is correct, however, stated benefits from the proposed legislation are merely anticipated at this point.