Should Engineering Faculty Be Licensed?

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of and should not be attributable to the National Society of Professional Engineers.

Here's an opinion piece from the July issue ofPEmagazine that argues that engineering schools place too much emphasis on engineering research by faculty at the expense of real engineering experience. What do you think? Leave your comments below.

By Paul R. Munger, P.E., F.NSPE and L.G. "Skip" Lewis, P.E., F.NSPE

From time to time, the subject of faculty licensure generates a lot of discussion, both pro and con. It is periodically discussed by engineering licensing boards and by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. Seldom is there a consensus of opinion on this topic. There is, however, a very strong consensus among college and university faculty who teach in the engineering programs throughout the United States.

PE Not Required
It is the position of most engineering faculty and academic administrators that possessing a valid license to practice engineering is not an essential qualification for a position on the faculty of an engineering department. In most cases it is not a factor in achieving tenure, promotion, or higher salary. Even in states where jurisdictional laws define the teaching of upper-level engineering courses as the "practice of engineering," the colleges and universities simply ignore the statutes. In a similar manner, most engineering licensing boards are reluctant for various reasons to demand compliance. The real issue and question, then is this: Is the teaching of engineering truly a professional practice in and of itself? If one considers only the mathematical or scientific elements associated with engineering courses, the answer is "probably no." However, if one considers the teaching of engineering to include preparing the student to enter the marketplace with attitudes and ethical principles embodied by true professionals, and certain fundamental technical skills, we argue the answer would be "yes."

Academics argue that a requirement for licensure as a prerequisite to an engineering faculty position, or that even setting a tract for licensure within a specific period of time, creates a competitive disadvantage when trying to attract highly qualified faculty. It is also true, however, that when an unlicensed faculty member leaves academia to pursue engineering opportunities in industry, manufacturing, construction, or private practice, the absence of a PE license can also be a competitive disadvantage.

On the other hand, many claim that having professionally licensed engineering faculty will likely lead to an increase in students and young graduate engineers who pursue the path of licensure. If that were the result, we would say that is a good result, not because of increased numbers in and of themselves, but because of the greater commitment to professional values that are instilled in the graduate.

Real Design Experience
Fifty years ago many, and certainly most, of the engineering faculty were licensed as professional engineers. Most did not possess a doctoral degree. Almost all had real engineering design and management experience. Most also stepped out of the classrooms and into engineering assignments in which their engineering expertise was honed to enhance their abilities to be a more effective engineering professor. Today, most engineering professors go directly from receipt of a PhD into the classroom and research laboratories. Few engineering faculty today have practical experience in design, analysis, review, or management of engineering projects. Almost all are selected for faculty positions based on research interests and their ability to obtain funding for research activities—and even if they are not initially hired on that basis, these factors become necessary traits for tenure. Today, the focus at too many schools is on faculty engagement in engineering research (and the revenue these activities bring to the university) at the expense of real engineering experience in the subject matters they teach.

Maybe it is time that engineering educators, engineering accreditation commissions, and the engineering community-at-large seriously consider the professional school concept. Under this concept, the faculty would be licensed professionals, with experience in the subjects they teach and with proven teaching skills. They would be expected to maintain their practice expertise through periodic engagements to keep them abreast of real-world advancements in the engineering workplace. They would be expected to imbed a spirit of professionalism in the classroom lectures and teaching assignments. They would serve as mentors to the students they teach. Depending on the formation goals, a professional school of engineering could also prepare the student with supplementary professional attributes such as project management, risk management, and contracting skills. In this vein, the professional school would better equip the graduate to enter the true "profession of engineering."

This approach would also elevate the engineering profession to a truly learned profession, and in the forum of public opinion, the professional engineer would be recognized as a leader in the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare.

Paul R. Munger, P.E., F.NSPE, is professor emeritus of civil engineering at Missouri University of Science & Technology and director of business development for Morris and Munger Engineers, a division of Benton & Associates Inc.

L.G. "Skip" Lewis Jr., P.E., F.NSPE, is chairman of H2L Consulting Engineers. He is a member of NSPE's Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee and Professional Liability Committee.

Read NSPE'sposition on engineering faculty licensure.

Published July 17, 2012 by Craig Musselman, P.E., F.NSPE


There is no need for a Faculty with a PhD in any Engineering field be subjected to written exams before being licensed. Rather, he/she can be given a special oral interview by a panel, and later be awarded the PE designation.

When going through the PE course contents for licensing, it is too far below what a Professor or PhD (Engineering) has done.


1.) They should be licenced , without sitting for any exam.

2.) ORAL interview may/ may not be conducted.

3.) No exam is necessary for Faculty.

4.) There is nothing special about field practice that a Faculty cannot cope with, afterall, "academic Reseach & teaching" make Engineering what it is.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 1:49 AM by Soji Falae, PhD

I am in favor of the recommendations in the article.

Soji sounds like a true academic in his reply, and I disagree with his assertions. The exams are just a gateway to getting a P.E. registration. It's the experience of working as a design engineer (not project or sales engineering) that is the real requirement that faculty should have. I went from industry to a professorship because the students graduating from engineering schools I interviewed for jobs knew analytical theory but not design practice, and the majority of faculty I met while a graduate student taught only theory. I wanted to change that, and I am at my university.

Most professors know little to nothing about design of components or systems, and most textbooks are written from an analysis perspective, not a design perspective. I recently gave a job interview to a retired professor who had taught primarily circuit analysis for 25 years, and he couldn't properly design a simple resistive voltage divider. This illustrates the problem.

I am trying to embody the recommendations in the second paragraph under real design experience. Fortunately, I am at a teaching school, where my M.S. and P.E. and years of experience both teaching and engineering were valued, got me the position, and count toward tenure. That would not be the case at a research school, but with state funding declining there is a push toward engaging in sponsored research to help with the budget, and a Ph.D. is pretty much a must to bring in grant money. It still isn't a requirement, fortunately, but research will count toward our professional development requirement (as does engineering consulting, which I continue to do part-time to maintain my industry knowledge).

Monday, July 23, 2012 12:34 PM by Frank Rytkonen, P.E.

I disagree with the statement made by the previous commenter that a PE license should simply be given to someone who has earned a Ph.D. I have earned my Ph.D. but still had to sit for both the FE exam and the PE exam to earn my license. I had worked in industry for over a dozen years when I sat for these exams, and can say with confidence that an academic who has never worked in industry would find it difficult to pass the PE exam.

Faculty especially should be required to sit for the PE exam.

And I would suggest taking this approach one step further. Professionals should be required to work in industry for a minimum of 5 years before they are even allowed to apply for an open faculty position.

Monday, July 23, 2012 1:43 PM by Arthur Reardon

There are many engineering faculty that could not pass the exams or practice engineering in the real world.  There are other faculty that already have the PE and would do fine in industry, government, or academia.  If you are truly concerned about engineering ethics and other "unique engineering attributes", I would work towards justifying why only a PE should teach them.   Wholesale licensure of engineering faculty is not a very practical objective.

GM Samaras.  Pueblo CO

Monday, July 23, 2012 5:26 PM by GM Samaras, PhD, DSc, PE

Engineering faculty should absolutely be licensed as Professional Engineers.  In fact it should be mandated for ABET accreditation.   More importantly the engineering faculty should want to be licensed.   Engineering is an applied science and having faculty licensed shows they can apply their research in a practical way to solve unique and challenging problems.

Many of the engineering publications like to compare engineering education to medical and law education.  Those professions are taught by members who have passed the medical board exam or the bar exam. Who better to teach the next generation of practicing engineers than those currently licensed to practice?

As undergraduate credits have decreased over the years, the number of “soft” courses has increased, and a master’s degree will be required to sit for the licensing exam, engineering faculty need to assume the mentor role in preparing students for engineering practice.  Requiring faculty to be licensed is the best way for the mentors to stress the importance of licensing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 9:54 PM by James Riddle, PE

you should know  Mssrs Munger and Lewis are old friends and while I agree with them on most points I think if you don't become a PE you should not call yourself an engineer. I can see an engineering scientist but not an engineer.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 4:28 PM by J. Charles Jennett PhD, PE, BSEE

We always compare ourselves to other professions like doctors & lawyers, perhaps a little jealously.  So what do they do?  Are all professors of medicine and law licensed in their respective fields?  We should be as professional as they are if we want the respect (and pay) thy get.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 4:37 PM by Steve Wegman

Another issue is whether universities will be willing to quit hiring people without engineering B.S. degrees or individuals who have a B.S. from an unaccredited program (e.g., foreign school)?  May make it more difficult for universities to hire a foreign faculty member.  (May even be illegal.)

A research I university (particularly in engineering) will try to hire the best researcher (i.e., research $), and acquiring a PE license does not necessarily aid in getting research funding.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 5:31 PM by Joe W.

Of course engineering faculty should be PE, at ANY college or university level, for Heaven's sakes, the exams are so easy, it should be the minimal amount of knowledge faculty ought to have in their engineering discipline.  

It isn't a matter of "real world experience" - it's a matter of "basic minimum knowledge for the job"  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 5:31 PM by Brian G Valentine

Licensure is primarily about public accountability, and the benefit of professional competance is a desirable byproduct.  Since the transfer of knowledge in an academic environment does not create fixed works for the public, doing it poorly probably won't affect the public health, safety and welfare, although it could negatively affect the post-graduation marketability of all students coming from that institution.  

How would negligence or incompetance in engineering teaching be measured?  How would it be enforced?  To what standard should they be professionally accountable?

NSPE would probably be better served by putting all of this energy into promoting a system of public accountability for all that engineering work outside of each State's engineering board jurisdiction, such as federal and industrial projects.  Exploding oil platforms, failing levees, and bursting natural gas lines threaten the public health, safety, and welfare far more than an engineering professor who doesn't know a plans sheet from a specification.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 6:10 PM by Danny Kahler, PE

I think PE licensure should be encouraged but not required of engineering faculty.  I disagree, however, that "practical experience" is something we should favor over mastery of engineering theory.  It would be good if a school of engineering had some faculty with industrial or consulting experience, but the overriding qualifications of the faculty as a whole should be competency in the theory of engineering and of engineering science, and the ability to communicate the essentials of understanding that theory to students.  Research of their own also must be a requisite, for economic reasons if nothing else.

At this time when technology is developing at an ever-accelerating rate, it is crucial that our engineering faculty remain current with the state of the art in research and development.  Suggestions that they take time out for mundane practice are misplaced, in my opinion.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 8:51 PM by Jeff Hullinger, PE

I agree with Mr. Riddle's comments and would like to amplify.  Since a lot of the exam questions where written by this same group they should have to take the exam as well.  MANY of us that have sat for the PE exam have seen where the questions would never reflect 'real world' application.  The P.E. is supposed to be a PRACTICLE exam and in many of the questions, it definitely is not.  A Ph.D. should NOT exempt a person from sitting for the exam, again this is supposed to be a practical application exam.

Thursday, July 26, 2012 7:31 AM by Gregory A. Wolven, P.E.

I am an engineering professor at a land grant university.  We have been requiring that all new faculty have or get their PE before they go up for tenure.  I personally believe that engineering faculty should have and maintain their PE licenses.  It is not (and should not be) trivial to do so.

Thursday, July 26, 2012 9:15 AM by Raymond Cook, P.E.

I want people to see the difference between sciences faculty teachers and engineering faculty teachers. Sciences is more theoritical than engineering therefore no licence should be required for a science faculty, but when it comes to engineering which is more practical even though some courses can be theoritical A P.E. should be required.

Friday, August 03, 2012 2:42 AM by Alassane Traoe Master sciences Engineering, EIT

I agree with the NSPE's policy statement that the faculty teaching upper level design courses should be PE. The current emphasis on striving for theoretically 'correct' solutions for engineering problems, which unfortunately has also entered the design codes, should be replaced to some extent on finding a practicle 'engineering' solution using simple mathematical models.

Sunday, May 12, 2013 10:18 AM by Tariq Chaudhary, PhD, PE

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