Have questions about ASCE's efforts to enhance educational standards for civil engineering practice? Scan the questions below to find those that reflect your own queries. Click on the question and the answer will appear beneath it.
Do you have a question that isn't answered here? Send it to email@example.com.
1. What is the Raise the Bar for Engineering initiative?
The Raise the Bar initiative seeks to ensure that those who practice engineering as licensed professionals (PEs) in the future have attained the body of knowledge necessary to protect the public health, safety, and welfare.
Since entry into professional practice is regulated by state engineering licensure laws, the Raise the Bar initiative aims to amend state law so that additional education beyond the bachelor’s degree – a master’s degree or an equivalent 30 credits of graduate or upper-level undergraduate courses – is required of those who become licensed engineers in the future.
2. Who supports Raise the Bar?
A broad collection of professional associations, business leaders, consultants, educators, government agencies, and association leaders support Raise the Bar to meet the needs of the future. Organizationally, the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) have written policies supporting Raise the Bar, and key support also comes from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), which represents engineering licensure boards across the country. NCEES's support takes the form of its model law*, which NCEES modified to reflect Raise the Bar principles. These organizations represent that portion of the engineering community where licensure is generally pursued and for which the licensure process is the key means of protecting the public. For many sectors of engineering, licensure is not needed or sought by practitioners. Finally, committees of the National Academy of Engineering support the Raise the Bar concept, and many state-based chapters of engineering associations back Raise the Bar.
* The updated Model Law would require the following for obtaining an engineering license: 1) An accredited bachelor's degree in engineering; 2) a master's degree or an equivalent 30 credits of graduate or upper level undergraduate courses in engineering, science, mathematics, and/or professional practice topics (this is known as the "MOE" - master's or equivalent - provision); 3) approximately four years of progressive engineering experience (three years with an engineering master's degree; two years with a Ph.D.); and 4) successful completion of the appropriate NCEES-sponsored written examinations.
3. Is Raise the Bar a national or a state movement?
ASCE and NSPE support Raise the Bar on a national basis and participate in outreach to educate the engineering community about the issues involved. However, new licensure laws will be passed on the state level, and local leaders will initiate and pursue those efforts. The lead role at the local level could come from any number of organizations, including local chapters affiliated with ASCE, NSPE, or the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC). Coalitions of several groups are also a likely outcome. ASCE and NSPE national will offer support if it is wanted.
4. Isn't today’s system of a bachelor’s degree, four years of experience, and passing the FE and PE exam adequate to protect the public?
Today, yes, but the rapid expansion of technical and professional knowledge needed for licensure in the future will no longer fit into a four-year undergraduate program of 120-128 credit hours. The current system was set up for the broader curricula of the past, when more credit hours were required. Future engineering practice will be more complex and requires more time for that foundational learning.
4A. What has been the trend over the years in the number of credit hours required for graduation in engineering?
The credits required to earn the traditional four-year undergraduate engineering degree have decreased significantly over the past decades, from about 140 some 40 years ago to an average of 128 today. This reduction in credit hours in all engineering disciplines is increasingly the result of state mandates that all undergraduate programs be funded only to a certain maximum number of credit hours – often 120-128 – whether the programs be in English literature, engineering, or sociology. Unfortunately, university engineering programs are not in a position to reverse this trend.
5. How will the additional 30 credit hours of education impact the public’s health, safety, and welfare?
Having better prepared professional engineers can only improve the standard of care** and will provide less risk. Projects or products developed by such higher-educated engineers will be based on a greater breadth and depth of knowledge and, on average, will be less likely to be deficient or to fail. The enhanced preparation will also improve the public’s welfare as professional engineers apply new perspectives to cost effective solutions.
**A good working definition of the standard of care of a professional is: that level or quality of service ordinarily provided by other normally competent practitioners of good standing in that field, contemporaneously providing similar services in the same locality and under the same circumstances (Paxton v. County of Alameda (1953) 119 C. A. 2d 393, 398, 259 P. 2d 934) as extracted from Kardon, 1999).
6. How does the call for Raise the Bar relate to the fact that FE and PE exam pass rates are not going down?
The qualifications for licensure and professional practice are based on education, examination and experience. They must all be strong. The FE and PE exams evaluate selected technical problem-solving skills but don’t by themselves ensure the needed body of knowledge has been attained to protect the public.
7. Even though credit hours for engineering may be going down, isn’t it possible that students are still getting the same amount of education in less time?
Today’s students have more material to master in their current university courses, be it computer-aided design (CAD), geographic information systems (GIS), building information modeling (BIM), sustainability, and codes and standards, to name just a few. Moreover, a broader education outside of engineering is also required to thrive in management and leadership roles. Many who have compared their course load from decades ago to requirements today see that important courses have been cut.
8. Can raising the bar for engineering be addressed through specialty certification as opposed to the licensure process?
Engineering licensure aims to establish a minimum standard of competency across all of engineering to protect the public. While it is true that many groups offering specialty certification require a master’s or additional credits beyond the bachelor’s degree, only a limited number of professionals apply for such certification. Therefore specialty certification cannot play that baseline role for all. Moreover, licensure has the force of law for someone who offers engineering services directly to the public. If a more advanced specialty certification were to take on the same legal status, then a duplicative system would have been created. That said, engineers are encouraged to seek specialty certification after licensure, if appropriate, to further enhance the service they provide and augment their career opportunities.
9. Is additional education needed when a state licensure board is in place to oversee licensees and thereby protect the public from incompetence?
The state boards regulate thousands of licensed professional engineers with limited staffs and budgets. Boards generally depend on improper practice being reported by third parties after the fact. The Raise the Bar initiative focuses on prevention – better preparation before licensure.
10. Would adding credits to the Bachelor’s degree be a good alternative to the bachelor’s plus master’s or equivalent under Raise the Bar?
In today’s fiscal environment, adding credits to the BS degree would not be feasible. The trend of state mandates that all undergraduate programs be funded only to a certain maximum number of credit hours – often 120-128, whether the programs be in English literature, engineering, or sociology – has led to a steady decrease in the required engineering credits over the past decades. Unfortunately, university engineering programs are not in a position to reverse this trend, so there is little practical chance of implementing a longer BS program.
Also, it is more beneficial to offer two credentials than just one when it gets you the same result—the path to licensure in the same amount of time. Also, a two-step bachelor’s and master’s degree approach gives students the flexibility of pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering as a stepping stone for another career.
11. Why can’t the needed engineering body of knowledge be adequately covered in 120 to 128 semester credit hours?
The engineering body of knowledge has grown tremendously, and in the future, students will be expected to master many newer fields such as sustainability, computer applications, advanced materials, and so forth, while also mastering a broader general education to become leaders. That can’t happen within the 120-128 credit hour curriculum.
12. What effect will Raise the Bar have on the number of students choosing an engineering career?
All other learned professions have increased their educational requirements over the past decades and they have not experienced shortages of students. A Florida study showed that was true for accountants, who raised their credit requirements for CPA licensure from 120 to 150. For those engineers who don’t pursue licensure (in some engineering disciplines that is typical), additional education will not be required.
Also, a study found that most high school and college students believe they need an advanced degree to succeed, while an “overwhelming majority” plan to seek the same career regardless of the educational requirements. The bottom line—students pursue a profession because they see value in that life path.
13. Will Raise the Bar affect the number of minorities pursuing careers in engineering?
There is no evidence of that. A Florida study showed that when accountants raised the educational requirements for CPA licensure, over time minority enrollments actually increased.
14. What options will students have to pursue licensure if they are unable to get into a master's program?
Students would still have the option of pursuing the alternative path of 30 advanced credits, which could be obtained through distance learning, an outside educational organization, a professional society, or even a formal company or agency training program. Also, many types of master’s programs exist, and the education market will likely adapt to offer new opportunities.
15. What types of masters degrees and alternate advanced education routes will be available under a Raise the Bar system?
U.S. universities currently offer a variety of master’s degree programs, and as Raise the Bar becomes more widespread, university programs will adapt to meet the demands of the marketplace. In addition, there is sufficient flexibility in the NCEES Model Law (see footnote under question 2) to permit postgraduate studies in non-research focused areas, either through a practice oriented master’s or through the alternative path of an equivalent 30 credits, which can be completed outside the university setting. That alternative path allows 50 percent of the course work to be in non-engineering related subjects such as business, communications, contract law, management, ethics, public policy, and quality control.
16. Does the presence of a continuing education requirement for licensure renewal make the master’s or equivalent unnecessary?
Continuing education attempts to maintain competency after licensure. It is not always of the rigor of advanced university course work and cannot necessarily be counted on to provide that same strong educational foundation. Before entering practice, professionals need the fundamental education as a basis for practice and for additional learning later.
17. The need for a master's degree is fairly common in some lines of engineering work. What makes Raising the Bar important for all sectors?
Even general engineering practice is becoming more complex, with new materials, sustainability, new construction and financing techniques, and the like. The public will receive more value for the services and a higher degree of safety when a broader perspective goes into providing an engineering solution.
18. Isn’t experience on the job the main driver to make an engineer competent? How will additional education make a difference?
No one will argue the critical role that experience plays in producing competent professional engineers, but experience is only one third of the picture in setting legal standards for minimum competence. Education and testing are also key components. On the education front, new knowledge must be part of the foundational education for a civil engineer, taught at an advanced level and tested for accountability. That new knowledge, and its underlying theory, cannot always be taught by a more senior mentor on the job, since the senior engineer was not taught that knowledge or approach when in school. Also, one-on-one instruction for complex technical topics is not often efficient or effective. Finally, the new education requirements offer the opportunity for a broader education, meaning the professional, business, and communications training of an engineer can also be strengthened under the Raise the Bar framework.
19. As a licensed engineer, how would a Raise the Bar law affect me?
If you have a license, you would not be affected. The law would apply only to engineers who get licensed after a Raise the Bar law takes effect.
20. How would those applying for licensure before the new rules are mandated be affected?
Applicants would continue to follow procedures currently in place. This change will apply only to those seeking new licenses after the date the law takes effect.
21. In the engineering disciplines where licensure is not as relevant for practice, such as mechanical and electrical, will even fewer engineers seek licensure under Raise the Bar?
Engineers wishing to assume higher levels of responsibility and accountability will continue to seek professional licensure. Seeking licensure should be highly encouraged, but it should also be done within the context of a standard to protect the public, not as a standard simply to increase numbers.
22. How long would it take for additional education requirements to be in effect in my state?
Under the NCEES Model Law, the earliest date that Raise the Bar could take effect is 2020, but the expectation is that states will not change the rules in mid-stream for prospective and active engineering students. They should be allowed to work through the system under the current rules, with a law taking effect after that. So if a law were passed today, the effective date would probably be beyond 2020.
23. How would additional requirements for education be implemented in the states?
This is accomplished by passing legislation and having it signed into law by the governor, followed by the subsequent rule-making and administrative processes for codifying the law.
24. How will licensure by comity be affected by additional postgraduate education when one state has such a requirement and the other does not?
Licensure comity will evolve as it has with other professions that increased their requirements state by state, and as it has for changes in the PE licensure statutes in individual states. Generally comity will not be an issue, since the requirements in a state with the new law will respect the PE license from another state if it was granted before the new law took effect. For newly licensed engineers in another state, with a new law on the books in a second state, additional education might be required to get comity.
With respect to a current engineer with a BS degree, consider a specific example. Let’s say that State A adopts increased engineering education requirements as a prerequisite for licensure in 2019, with an effective date of 2029, ten years later. State Z still has not adopted increased requirements. Let’s further assume that an engineer who lives in, and is licensed in, State Z gets a PE license in State Z in, say, 2021, based on his/her undergraduate engineering degree, passing both the FE and PE examinations and at least four years of progressive engineering experience. Let’s further assume that this engineer wishes to get licensed in State A in 2031. By the provisions of the Model Law, as it currently stands, and as it is proposed in the future, that engineer would be eligible for licensure in State A in 2031 if his/her qualifications when he/she was initially licensed in 2021 met the qualifications required for licensure as of that same date, 2021, in State A. That is the way the Model Law works.
25. Is there any precedent for this kind of a change in the licensing requirements for a major profession?
Yes. Medicine and law made these changes decades ago and more recently the pharmacists and certified public accountants have raised the educational requirements for their licensed practitioners.
26. No state has passed a RTB law. Why would my state possibly want to be one of the first ones?
By passing a Raise the Bar law, your state will be adopting the gold standard of licensure requirements and will ensure that your state’s engineers are in the best position for licensure mobility (reciprocity/comity) and for providing enhanced value to society and to their employers. You will show your state as a leader and will be putting the future stamp of excellence on your state’s PEs. You also won’t be left behind as other states adopt Raise the Bar over time.
27. What effect will Raise the Bar have on the staffing and salaries of an engineering team working within a business?
Raise the Bar only addresses requirements for engineers seeking licensure. Other members of the project team, including unlicensed engineers, technologists and technicians will round out the project team and will not need this level of education. PEs with advanced education will likely command modestly higher salaries, but on average, such PEs in charge can also increase project quality and value to the client.
28. How will licensed engineers with advanced education benefit my business?
First, many engineering business leaders says the master’s education, no matter what the focus, improves the performance of their engineers across the spectrum of their skills. Also, practice-oriented master’s programs are available, and the alternative path of the 30 advanced credits provides for professional-oriented courses, along with the technical, courses. Employers are already supporting such education, but if there are increased costs for education, those should be offset by the higher quality of engineering work from the employees and from more effective project teams.
29. What effect will Raise the Bar have on U.S. competitiveness?
PEs with enhanced technical, leadership, communications, and business skills will give the profession more effective project teams, generating improved operations and service, and more top-notch students should seek engineering careers. Also, the delivery of a competitive product is not just the work of the PEs but of the whole engineering team of unlicensed engineers, technologists, and technicians.
The world is growing increasingly competitive and countries like China and India are producing competent engineers with lower salary structures. America must provide greater value in the form of advanced knowledge to remain competitive. Moreover, in the United Kingdom, the minimum qualification for gaining chartered engineer status is the Master of Engineering, so U.S. engineers will need similar preparation to compete.
30. How are the stature of the engineering profession and Raise the Bar related?
Raise the Bar is about preparation for licensed practice in an increasingly complex world and protecting the public health, safety, and welfare. If the status of the profession is raised as a by-product, that is simply an added positive.
31. What relationship has there been between academia and the Raise the Bar initiative?
The Raise the Bar initiative was started to address the need to accommodate the expanding body of knowledge into the educational process, not to encourage more enrollments. Besides, students will also be able to accomplish the additional education outside the traditional university setting. Many in academia support Raise the Bar because they witness for themselves that with reduced credit hours and more to teach, the needed knowledge just won’t fit into the 4-year bachelor’s degree. The prospect of possibly having more master’s level students has had no impact on support for the initiative within the academic community.