The surveying community has always been a small community, and our experiences and education vary from region to region and state to state. Over the last 20 years, or so, our profession has begun implementing certain rules requiring more education, up to holding a Bachelor of Science degree in land surveying in some states.


Article Index:


A well-educated workforce was the expected outcome. However, the mere requirement has not necessarily proved to be successful in providing a more qualified surveyor; in some cases, it has had the exact opposite effect. We have graduates who know a tremendous amount about geoid models, technology and Geographical Information Systems (GIS), but have never stepped foot on the ground and never found a pit and mound, or know what it means.

The National Council of Examining for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) has been a driving force in the need for states to alter their requirements to have a bachelor’s degree in order to be qualified for licensure in any given state. This has been explained as a way to provide more mobility in our profession; it would allow surveyors from other states to gain licensure in the other states easier. If all surveyors held a degree specific to land surveying and all states’ histories, laws and rules were similar, then land surveying would be full of very qualified surveyors, capable of not only learning the laws and rules of a particular state, but applying those rules to each region within a given state. However, this is simply not the case; the rules, laws and histories are as varied as the people working in those states.

Moreover, after 20 years, we have not seen any real progress with universities providing “land surveying” programs with a focus on cadastral surveying. What has occurred are universities teaching GIS, computer technology and geodesy, but almost no instruction in cadastral surveying — which is what we are licensed to provide. The areas of instruction universities are instructing are really ancillary to land boundary. Numerous states including Texas allow degrees other than land surveying to qualify as an individual’s education requirements; electrical engineering degrees qualify, as do liberal arts degrees with 32 semester hours in science.


An Alarming Situation

As a member of the general public and especially as a Registered Professional Land Surveyor, the current accepted education and experience requirements should be alarming. After four years at a university studying general education, with 32 hours of science, an individual can work in an office for two years under a land surveyor and be “qualified” to take their state-specific examination without ever stepping foot in the field.

Our license is unique in that we are licensed to protect the public; are we really protecting the public? We deny a person who has 20 years of diverse experience working directly for a licensed land surveyor as a para-professional, but allow a person with an undergraduate in liberal arts and two years’ office experience to be qualified? How could this possibly protect the public?

We are witnessing a downward trend in the number of active land surveyors throughout the United States. Provided by the Texas Board of Professional Land Surveying, the numbers below represent a 20-year history of examinees and actual licensed land surveyors in this huge state.
 

Year

RPLS

Examinees

1995

3,185

416

1996

3,141

379

1997

2,879

236

1998

2,865

398

1999

2,858

413

2000

2,853

587

2001

2,897

556

2002

3,141

527

2003

3,060

630

2004

3,022

332

2005

2,926

350

2006

2,937

387

2007

2,943

359

2008

2,895

369

2009

2,979

415

2010

2,991

401

2011

2,980

334

2012

2,858

261

2013

2,885

214

2014

2,923

250

2015

2,897

272


The above list reflects a 10-percent drop in 20 years of Licensed Land Surveyors in Texas; the number of licensees averaged 460 per year prior to the degree requirement and 328 per year since the requirement for a degree went into effect. It appears we do not have enough qualified or interested candidates to apply for licensure. This may be for a multitude of reasons, but we simply do not have the numbers needed to maintain an adequate number of qualified land surveyors needed for a robust economy.


There Is a Solution

There have been numerous suggestions on how to solve the problem. However, most have not been either implemented, or they have disappointed those trying to implement them, such as outreach programs to get primary school aged students interested in the profession. Even those who are interested in the profession cannot find a university program that provides an education in land boundary. The public interest is not being served when a state as large as Texas only has 2,897 licensed land surveyors, when the large majority of them are over 50 years of age and many do not live or practice in the state.

We often say that surveying is closely related to civil engineering; the numbers below reflect the Bureau of Labor Statistics latest numbers. States with the highest employment level in civil engineering (see chart above).

Notice there is 10 times the number of civil engineers compared to land surveyors in Texas. This may be partially due to the universities providing degree programs that are specific to civil engineering; it also may be that surveying is not a degree program common to universities and those who do graduate with GIS or related degrees drift towards related fields, but do not actually practice cadastral surveying.

We are now left with a dilemma — one we must either solve or risk becoming such a small number of licensed professionals that we become irrelevant or lose the profession all together. One suggestion is to change the rules to require two years of field experience prior to being allowed to take the NCEES exam, then another two years of experience in the office and responsible charge before taking the state-specific examination. However, as we have already witnessed, the degree requirement itself has had a tremendously negative effect on the numbers of examinees. We would expect to see yet another drop in examinees if we require two years of field experience before one is eligible to take the NCEES exam, mainly due to those graduating in related fields never intending to practice cadastral surveying. 

Arkansas recognized this problem; in 2013, the state reversed course and placed into law an alternate path to licensure within the state rules. The following definition is from Surveyor Law (A.C.A. §17-48-101 et seq w/amendments from 2013 Legislative Session).

(2) (A) A graduate holding an associate of science degree in surveying or an associate of applied science in surveying degree from a program approved by the board or its equivalent, as approved by the board, followed by six (6) years or more of experience in responsible charge of land surveying under the supervision of a professional surveyor, and who has passed an examination for certification as a surveyor intern shall be admitted to sit for a written examination in a form approved by the board.

This appears to be a good compromise, as it does require an associate’s degree in surveying as well as six years of responsible charge experience. It would require a change in the current rules to not allow just a bachelor’s degree to qualify. Furthermore, it would allow the community colleges the opportunity to establish or refine their programs to provide either an associate’s or certificate program for those who are already engaged in the profession or those coming out of high school and do not have the resources for a university degree. Most community colleges are already providing a robust program and are more qualified to provide the educational requirements our profession needs. If the rules changed to require an associate’s degree or certificate in surveying, the students could continue on and obtain a higher degree if they choose. However, those who want to obtain a license to provide cadastral surveying could begin their work experience sooner and provide a much-needed licensed workforce in the near future, which is needed to continue to grow the economy.
 

State

Employment

Employment per thousand jobs

Location
quotient

Hourly
mean wage

Annual
mean wage
e

California

38,060

2.52

1.29

$47.87

$99,580

Texas

23,730

2.11

1.08

$48.23

$100,330

New York

13,620

1.55

0.79

$43.92

$91,350

Florida

12,720

1.66

0.85

$40.83

$84,920

Pennsylvania

12,650

2.24

1.15

$39.64

$82,460



The Common Good

Not all surveyors do the same work and not all surveyors need the same education or experience; some work in GIS, some use GNSS, some create subdivision plats, some provide construction layout, and some work in the energy field. The one thing all surveyors have in common and the one area all surveyors should be educated and have experience is land boundary. We are charged with the duty to protect the public by retracing the original surveyor’s footprints. How can someone possibly do so when they have never spent a day in the field?

We all desire surveying to continue, grow and be recognized as a profession; however, we must recognize we simply do not have a university system in place to provide what is needed and we must rely on our community college system and work-related experience to achieve the means to an end — qualified land surveyors. Those who choose to educate themselves in related fields associated with surveying should continue to gain their education and experience, but those who simply want to provide land boundary surveying should be allowed to obtain their license and practice in the field they enjoy.

If we do not find the solution soon, we do risk becoming irrelevant and replaced, which will not serve the public’s interest.