Licensure of Engineering Technologists: Part I – Current Status

This is the first in a series of blog articles that will examine issues pertaining to the licensure of engineering technologists as professional engineers in the U.S. This is a matter that is not often discussed in the engineering profession, and it is controversial among some professional engineers and among many engineering technologists. This first article describes the current status of how we license, or do not license, engineering technologists in the U.S. Future articles will contrast engineering and engineering technology accreditation criteria and curricula, and address how other countries distinguish among the roles and responsibilities of engineers and technologists.

The Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ETAC) of ABET accredits both two-year AS programs, educating engineering technicians, and four-year BS programs, educating engineering technologists. There is at least one accredited electrical engineering technology program that advertises athree-year BS degree. As a confusing issue, four-year engineering technology programs have historically ranged from algebra-based curricula to more rigorous calculus-based curricula, some of which are difficult to distinguish from engineering curricula. Recent changes in ETAC accreditation technology have characterized mathematics requirements for all ETAC programs going forward as “differential and integral calculus or other mathematics above the level of algebra and trigonometry.” This and future blog articles are referring to technologists educated through four-year ETAC programs.

How do we currently license BS-level engineering technologists in the U.S.? That is a long story. The NCEES Model Law and Model Rules require a BS degree from an Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) of ABET-accredited program or equivalent. There is no mention of ETAC of ABET-accredited programs. The Model Law is silent on this issue. The NCEES requirements for the equivalency evaluation of non-ABET accredited programs state, “engineering technology courses cannot be considered to meet engineering topic requirements.” Some state boards have interpreted a program’s ETAC of ABET accreditation as demonstrable proof that it is not the equivalent of an EAC of ABET-accredited degree, or the program would have applied for EAC accreditation. Since the Model Law does not include provisions for licensing engineering technologists, that has been and is the purview of the engineering licensing board in each jurisdiction. An NCEES position statement recommends if states do choose to provide a pathway for licensure of engineering technologists, that additional years of engineering experience be required. Historically, jurisdictions have either chosen not to allow licensure of engineering technologists as professional engineers, or, in many cases where there are such provisions, they have required additional years of progressive engineering experience prior to approving an applicant to sit for the PE examination. There are no jurisdictions that license engineering technologists separately.

The current status of PE licensure requirements for engineering technologists in each state is presented in the table below. This table was compiled a few years ago based on an NCEES PE board survey, and was believed accurate then. If the reader is an engineering technologist interested in becoming licensed, he or she is strongly encouraged to contact the state licensing board to confirm current requirements. Do not rely on the data in this table.

Status of PE Licensure Requirements for Engineering Technologists by State Jurisdiction
Status (No= not allowed, #=years of engineering experience required)
STATE
ETAC ABET 4 Year Degree
Alaska
5
Alabama
NO
Arkansas
NO
California
6
Colorado
6
Connecticut
7
Delaware
8
Florida
NO
Georgia
6.5
Hawaii
8
Iowa
NO
Idaho
4
Illinois
NO
Indiana
NO
Kansas
NO
Kentucky
NO
Louisiana
NO
Massachusetts
8
Maryland
8
Maine
4
Michigan
NO
Minnesota
NO
Missouri
NO
Mississippi
NO
Montana
4
North Carolina
8
North Dakota
12
Nebraska
NO
New Hampshire
8
New Mexico
6
Nevada
6
New York
6
Ohio
8
Oklahoma
6
Oregon
6
Pennsylvania
4
Rhode Island
NO
South Carolina
8
South Dakota
5
Tennesee
NO
Texas
8
Virginia
6
Vermont
8
Washington
5
Wisconsin
4 to 12
West Virginia
6
Wyoming
NO
TOTALS
4–12 Years
30
NO
17
Note - Arizona, the District of Columbia, New Jersey and Utah did not respond to the survey
Note - This table is not definitive. The information is taken from a survey summary, and the specific requirements vary in clarity and requirement from state to state. Refer to state laws and rules for specific information.

Seventeen jurisdictions do not now have an established pathway for licensure of engineering technologists as professional engineers. Of the other states, all but four require additional years of experience beyond the four years required for an applicant with a degree from an EAC-ABET-accredited program. In these other states, an ETAC graduate typically would need to possess a BS degree from an ETAC-ABET-accredited program, pass both the FE and PE exams, and demonstrate the requisite years of engineering experience.

NSPE’s long-standing policyhas been that a BS from an EAC-ABET-accredited program should form the minimum educational qualification for licensure.

The “Career Guidance” section of NSPE’s position statement regarding engineering education defines the two careers as follows.

The National Institute for Certification of Engineering Technologies (NICET, a division of NSPE) defines technologists as follows:
“Engineering technologists are members of the engineering team who work closely with engineers, scientists, and technicians. Technologists have a thorough knowledge of the equipment, applications, and established state-of-the-art design and implementation methods in a particular engineering area.”

In conclusion, engineering licensure practices in the U.S. are such that engineering technologists cannot obtain a license to practice as a professional engineer in 1/3 of jurisdictions, but are capable of obtaining a PE license in the other 2/3 of states if they pass both the FE and PE exams and typically have more years of progressive engineering experience than is required of engineers.
Comments are encouraged in the space provided below.

Review and input provided by L. Robert “Larry” Smith, P.E., F.NSPE; Bernard R. Berson, P.E., P.L.S.,F.NSPE; and Carmine C. Balascio, Ph.D., P.E.

Published February 11, 2013 by Craig Musselman, P.E., F.NSPE

Filed under: Licensing, Engineering Technologists,

Comments

I think NSPE should change their policy to support holders of the B.S.E.T. degree in obtaining their P.E license, but require demonstrated additional qualifying experience. I am a member of NSPE, Holder of a B.S.E.E.T. degree, P.E in GA, and also currently enrolled taking courses to obtain the B.S.E.E. degree.  Maybe I'll feel different once I obtain the B.S.E.E. degree after I see how much additional knowledge I obtain, however, somehow I doubt that will happen.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013 9:38 AM by Drew Howard, P.E.

One issue that I see is the difference between engineering technology programs.  There are programs offered by trade type technical schools that are not up to the same standards as regular 4 year institutions.  At Penn State, where I obtained my degree, the professors were the same professors that taught regular engineering courses and oftened used the same "course" material for both.  I did well in school (3.5 GPA).

After graduating I did go down the path to be licensed in PA which allows technology graduates.  I passed both the EIT and PE exams on the first time with very good scores which I contributed to my education at Penn State.  A friend from high school, the valivictorian of our class) that graduated with an engineering degree, took 2 times to pass the EIT and gave up on the PE after his third time.  

Recently I went back to school for my Master's in Engineering.  I currently have a 3.7 GPA and felt I was way ahead of my fellow classmates, many of whom had engineering degrees.

As far as being registered, I only perform engineering on projects that I feel compitant to design.  I have worked with professional engineers that are "engineers", "engineering technologists", and even some that don't have an engineering degree and there is no coorelation to level of work between what degree you have.  The truth is, it is what you learn after you go through school and that is why engineering technology should be allowed.

Thursday, February 21, 2013 9:07 AM by John Hood

Why does the NSPE not work with other organizations to make a standardized path that would allow engineering technologists to obtain there PE? I am an engineering technologist; I completed a ABET/TAC accredited program. My job title is “engineer” but when I explain to people that I am a technologist, they give me a blank stare until I define it as an “applied engineer”. When the opportunity came for be to begin my career in the engineering/technical field, I was married and had a family to support. I worked a full time job and went to school at nights, on the weekends; I worked off shifts to attend the classes that were only offered during the day. However, for me the only school available in my area offered a ABET/TAC program. I talked with three Universities that offered ABET/EAC programs and none of them offered anything other than full time day classes. Two did not even want to talk with me unless I was a fulltime day student.

I am not trying to be arrogant and say that there is not a difference between engineers and technologists. I have grown as a technologist and would like to progress beyond the applied nature of my field. How can I do that? Start over, quit my job, and go back and earn an engineering degree, only to be typecast as an “applications guy”. There should be a program that would allow technologists to build on the skill and experience we have, while bridging education to allow us to be equal with our engineering peers. I have four years of school and over 15 years of experience. Am I at the same theoretical and mathematical level as an engineer with comparable experience? No, of course I’m not. On the other side of the coin I doubt many engineers have as much practical experience as I do.

There is a place for both, technologists and engineers. One should not try to present themselves as the other without due course in education, training, and certification. There has to be a way to bridge the gap and establish a transition for those that are willing to put forth the effort to do so. NSPE and NCEES continue to call for a standard for someone to call themselves an engineer; then they should take the lead in giving those willing to pursue that title the means to do so.

Monday, March 04, 2013 2:10 AM by Allen West

I graduated from Texas A&M University's Manufacturing & Mechanical Engineering Technology program, which is a hybrid of the mechanical and manufacturing disciplines.  I graduated as an EIT in my home state of Texas, and recently became a Chartered Engineer in the UK, which the US Federal Government recognizes as equivalent to a PE.  I am applying to take my PE exam next year in Texas, and also am currently an SME Certified Manufacturing Engineer.  All of my intern and post-graduate experience has been in the oil-and-gas industry.  Prior to attending A&M I worked as a machinist and CNC programmer for 5 years.  So my comments are all made through the lens of a machinist and mechanical design engineer.
The largest issue I see here is a paradigm described and endorsed by NSPE, ABET, and other organizations that sets a discrete dividing line between responsibilities of engineers and engineering technologists.  Engineers are often described as being highly theoretical and working in the "broad societal context" while technologists are described as being very pragmatic and applications oriented.  In my industry, over 90% of the traditional degreed engineers (i.e. ABET-EAC accredited programs) I have met and worked with are focused on delivery of solutions.  These solutions are tied to specific problems, and often take the form of products, processes, and systems that are designed and developed using a combination of analytical techniques and pragmatic thinking.  Although most of these are "design engineers", even those working in roles of manufacturing, quality, and project management are still utilizing this combination of analytical and practical skills to deliver real-world results.
The actual work scope I have observed for engineers has much more in common with the definition of "engineering technologist" than it does "engineer".  I have never met an engineer working in industry whose work scope is purely theoretical; those only seem to appear in academia.  So I would argue that from an industry perspective, the proposed paradigm of engineers being theoretical and technologists being pragmatic is one of pure fiction.  In my experience (as well as the experience of my father, a mechanical engineer with 3+ decades of experience in a variety of industries), there appears to be a lot of overlap between the classes of degrees and the work accomplished in industry.
Additionally, the most commonly repeated argument against including ET graduates as engineers seems to be a repeated focus on the lack of advanced math such as Differential Equations.  I know many engineers, especially those whose areas of expertise focus on machine element design, pressure vessels, and other areas that are stress-analsyis focused, who have never used math more advanced than Algebra in designing equipment.  No offense intended to the proponents of higher level math in engineering, but the formulas used for the design of gearing systems, frames, trusses, pressure vessels, wire rope, etc simply do not require higher math to perform safe, effective design.
I suspect that once again engineering degrees are diverging, and specialized degrees are becoming the solution to an ever wider range of jobs and required skillsets.  This is happening in parallel with engineering degrees becoming more and more diluted by non-technical coursework.  Keep in mind that at one time there was no Industrial Engineering, or Electrical Engineering.  We now consider these degrees to be modern, but originally they were specialized offshoots of Mechanical Engineering.
In the past comments by NSPE and other organizations have been militantly opposed to registration of ET graduates.  I would ask a simple question then.  If an ET graduate is the one performing practical design and analytical calculation work, and making engineering judgement in terms of material selection, safety factors, all with a pragmatic focus, then do you really want the approver of that body of work to be someone that is licensed but is not themselves a pragmatic thinker?  If the answer is yes, I would be concerned that the lack of pragmatic thinking in a traditional engineer would make them not qualified (although licensed) to approve tactical decisions.
In conclusion, I believe that there is room for both Engineering and Engineering Technology graduates within the licensure system.  I also believe that approval for licensure should be based on their scope of work compared with the body of knowledge of their degree.  Most of the detractors of ET are typically people who have not even reviewed the curriculums about which they speak, and often simply refer to the opinions of organizations like NSPE, who have applied a one-size-fits-all approach, although even in the body of this blog there is discussion about the wide variety of curriculums that carry the lable of "engineering technology".  I appreciate the effort that NSPE has put into the NICET organization, however when I read through the opportunities on their website, I get the sense that NICET is really catering to people that are more technicians than technologists or engineers.  I would challenge NSPE to consider an alternative to its current policy, that on occasion seems to adopt a crusade-like fervor to demonize ET graduates that work around, with, and as engineers.  I would also like to caution that discriminatory practices by degree are troubling in a world where licensed engineers that demonstrate a lack of technical competency are encountered on a daily basis.
If someone from NSPE would like to discuss with me, feel free to email at jeremycain79@yahoo.com.

Thursday, November 20, 2014 12:17 PM by Jeremy Cain

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