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NCEES Annual Meeting Marks ‘Sea Change’ in Momentum for Education beyond Baccalaureate

September 2009 Volume 34, Number 9

ISSUES & ADVOCACY

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) held its annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, August 12–15, and at that gathering the council’s members passed several motions that support ASCE’s continuing effort to “raise the bar” with respect to engineering education and licensure. Modifications to the wording of the NCEES model rules were incorporated that define the courses beyond a bachelor’s that will be required for professional licensure beginning no earlier than 2020. The council rejected attempts to remove references to education beyond the bachelor’s degree as a requirement for licensure. It also voted to begin a study of the details that will come into play in implementing the master’s degree or equivalent education requirement for licensure beginning in 2020.

The model rules developed by the NCEES include three paths for those seeking professional licensing: individuals may earn a bachelor’s degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program and a master’s degree in engineering; they may earn a bachelor’s degree from any program and a master’s degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program; or they may earn a bachelor’s degree from an ABET-accredited program and then complete an “acceptable amount of coursework.”

According to the model rules, an “acceptable amount of coursework” is defined as 30 additional credits, none of which may have been used in completing work for the bachelor’s degree. The credits must be “equivalent in intellectual rigor and learning assessments to upper-level undergraduate and/or graduate courses offered at institutions that have a program accredited by [the Engineering Accreditation Commission of] ABET,” the rules state. The rules also state that at least 15 of the 30 additional credits must be earned in courses in engineering and that the remainder must be earned in fields related to engineering, for example, mathematics and science, or in fields related to engineering practice, for example, business, communications, contract law, management, ethics, public policy, and quality control.

During the annual meeting several NCEES licensing boards that were opposed to requiring education beyond the bachelor’s degree moved to omit all language in the model law related to engineering education beyond the bachelor’s degree. The motion was voted down by a wide margin. Another resolution, however, which passed by a wide margin, stated that the NCEES Engineering Education Task Force should study “alternative solutions to the concept of additional education” that include investigating “reform to the bachelor’s degree program such that a bachelor’s degree be modified to contain the appropriate educational requirements to practice at a professional level.”

The chair of the NCEES Engineering Education Task Force, Michael J. Conzett, P.E., moved that NCEES further develop a “national clearinghouse” that would be responsible for validating the 30 additional credit hours. It is believed that the completion of this work will create a detailed process for validating education beyond the bachelor’s degree.
“There was a significant sea change that was apparent,” says Craig Musselman, P.E., Dist.M.ASCE, the Society’s liaison to the NCEES’s Board of Directors. “Despite heightened pressure from other engineering disciplines to derail the engineering education initiative, NCEES and its member P.E. boards decided by a wide margin to stay the course while continuing to carefully develop details and evaluate educational alternatives,” he says.

ASCE has been in favor of engineering education beyond the bachelor’s degree since its Board of Direction adopted Policy 465 (“Academic Prerequisites for Licensure and Professional Practice”) in 1998. As a result of that policy, the first edition of ASCE’s Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge for the 21st Century was released in 2004, the second edition following in 2008 (Education for Professional Practice ). That work states that, together with Policy 465, the goal is to “reform the education and prelicensure experience of tomorrow’s civil engineers.” The body of knowledge describes the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to enter the professional practice of civil engineering in the future. (See “ASCE Releases New Edition of Body of Knowledge Report,” ASCE News, March 2008, pages 1, 3–4, 8–10).

Eventually, assuming NCEES will continue to stay the course, this effort will move from a national issue with respect to the model law to state by state consideration,” Musselman says. ASCE through its Committee on the Academic Prerequisites for Professional Practice will continue to pursue various activities in this area, including presentations to students and practitioners and to other stakeholders around the country. ASCE, along with representatives of other professional societies with an interest in engineering licensure, will continue to be a resource for the NCEES Engineering Education Task Force and will provide input with respect to the engineering education alternatives.

ASCE was represented at the NCEES’s annual meeting by Blaine Leonard, P.E., M.ASCE, the Society’s president-elect; Musselman; Jeffrey Russell, Ph.D., P.E., Dist.M.ASCE; Ken Fridley, Ph.D., F.ASCE; and Tom Lenox, Ph.D., M.ASCE, a senior managing director with ASCE. Many other ASCE members also were present as representatives of their state licensing boards. 

—BRETT HANSEN