At its annual meeting in August 2013, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) voted by a substantial margin to modify the Model Law for engineering licensure to allow for the early taking of the PE exam. Currently, the Model Law, and most states, require that applicants for a PE license complete the required number of years of progressive engineering experience prior to attempting the Principles and Practices of Engineering Examination (the PE exam). With this coming change, the Model Law will stipulate that engineers may, at their option, attempt the PE exam after having received a degree from an ABET-EAC-accredited program and having passed the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination (the FE exam). The number of years of experience required to obtain a PE license will remain unchanged by this modification. The change in the Model Law will be subtle but significant—it simply removes the number of years required before attempting the PE exam, while retaining the number of years required to obtain a license.
In recent years, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Illinois, have allowed this flexibility. Exam data from those states have shown that for the core engineering disciplines of electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering, the PE exam pass rates, while being highest generally after four years of experience, are very similar for applicants taking the exam with one to three years experience. This isn’t true of all engineering disciplines, as some, such as control systems engineering, require substantial experience for an applicant to be successful. But the early taking flexibility in those states, and others to come, is optional.
Advocates for this change in NCEES’s deliberations contended the points outlined below.
- Last year, more than 52,000 people took the FE exam, while only about 27,000 attempted the PE exam. Both of those numbers include a significant number of repeat takers. The number of FE exam takers in recent years has increased due to program requirements for outcomes assessment purposes, and some of those required to take the exam are undoubtedly not on a licensure track. Despite those factors, there are a significant number of engineers who pass the FE exam but do not subsequently take the PE exam three or four years later.
- For engineers in industry, waiting to take the PE exam until after three or four years of experience is a significant constraint to becoming licensed because the exam covers broad topics in their discipline, most of which were covered as part of their education, but which may not have been involved in any detail in their specific practice of engineering. This flexibility may facilitate the licensure of engineers in industry who are otherwise not required to be licensed due to industrial exemptions.
- Engineers who pass the FE exam and PE exam early in their careers will be more likely to become licensed once they have accumulated the requisite experience.
- The flexibility to take the PE exam early will be more convenient for engineers who would otherwise plan to become licensed.
- Early taking of examinations is an established practice in the U.S. applicable to accountants, lawyers, health professionals, and architects. In comparison to these, waiting for the completion of the requisite years of experience is a tradition only in the engineering profession.
- This flexibility will be particularly convenient as the PE exams are converted to computer-based testing in the next several years, allowing the PE exam to be taken throughout most of the year, simply requiring an appointment.
The next step in the process is a significant one. Beyond the four jurisdictions that have adopted this flexibility to date, other states will need to consider modifying their state engineering statute, and/or their state rules, to make this change. The necessary change will depend on the precise language in the state statute and rules. Some states will likely be able to enact this change only with a rules or board policy change.
The primary proponents of such changes in each state are likely to be the state PE board and the state society of the National Society of Professional Engineers. NSPE recently approved a position statementadvocating that additional states adopt these provisions. Additional information is available from the NSPE Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee through NSPE General Counsel Art Schwartz, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allowing the early taking of the PE exam will facilitate the licensure of more engineers. NSPE state societies should consider contacting their state PE board to discuss legislative initiatives.
Read “Taking the PE Exam Early.”
Review and input for this article was provided by L. Robert Smith, P.E., F.NSPE; Bernard R. Berson, P.E., P.L.S., F.NSPE; and J. Richard Cottingham, P.E., P.L.S., F.NSPE.
Published September 16, 2013 by Craig Musselman, P.E., F.NSPE