Video: Why Engineering Needs to Raise the Bar

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.

“Raise the Bar” is a catchphrase coined for the initiative to increase the qualifications required for licensure as a professional engineer after 2020. There is a recently craftedeight-minute videoavailable on You Tube. If you haven’t yet seen this presentation, spend eight minutes of your time and watch it.

The words below of Chris M. Stone, P.E., F.NSPE, the immediate past president of NSPE, aptly describe the rationale behind the Raise the Bar initiative and the Model Law requirements for licensure as a professional engineer after 2020:

“At the beginning of the 1900s, a four-year baccalaureate degree was required to enter the engineering profession—more than for most other learned professions. Learned professions, such as medicine, law, pharmacy, architecture, and accounting, recognized the exploding body of knowledge in our society and responded to these changes by expanding their formal education requirements beyond a bachelor’s degree. The engineering profession’s requirements have remained unchanged, despite the ever-expanding technical and professional knowledge and skills and the fact that engineering services and engineered products affect the public health, safety, and welfare in all its aspects. PEs need greater breadth and depth of knowledge, leadership, and vision to address the increasingly complex challenges facing society. In response to this, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying changed its model state licensure law to require additional education beyond the bachelor’s degree for newly licensed professional engineers. The Model Law requires (no earlier than 2020), 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;
3. Four years or more of progressive engineering experience (three years with an engineering master’s degree, two years with certain PhDs); and
4. Successful completion of the appropriate NCEES-sponsored written examinations (FE and PE).

NSPE endorses the NCEES 2020 Model Law and encourages enactment of Model Law provisions in all jurisdictions as a means to further protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. Now is the time to “Raise The Bar” for professional engineering.”

This posting has been reviewed by L. Robert Smith, P.E., F.NSPE, and Bernard R. Berson, P.E., P.L.S., F.NSPE

Published August 1, 2012 by Craig Musselman, P.E., F.NSPE

Filed under: Education, Model Law, NCEES, master's degree, Licensing, master's or equivalent, Raise the Bar,


This is like suggesting that what the IRS needs is more Tax Law????

Raise the bar? What is really being talked about here is keeping aspiring engineers behind institutional bars.

Thanks but I know the rules, I have done the work, and now I'm trying to get paid while figuring it out along the way.

Thursday, August 02, 2012 6:18 PM by Bob

Is this serious?  A Master's Degree as a requirement.  Anyone who has worked as an engineer for a living knows that you gain most of your knowledge not from school, but from on-the-job experience.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 4:11 PM by Pete

I would argue that requiring an additional two years of college work (and college bills) would be cost prohibitive to students of modest means thinking about entering the engineering field.  Perhaps additional costs would make hiring a recent graduate too expensive for small firms. I'm thinking that an increase in educational requirements would lead to students choosing a non professional tech career path and lead to less engineers.

I would support additional continuing education requirements for PE licensure but that education should be available during the four year training period prior to licensure.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 4:14 PM by Adam Shutt, P.E.

I disagree with the approach that requires more time and cost to become a licensed engineer.  An engineer with a BS and experience is often times more qualified than an engineer with an MS and the minimum experience.  It breaks my heart to see so many young engineers who spent all that time and money to get a degree and now cannot even get a job.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 4:26 PM by Darell

It sounds to me like the problem has more to do with less rigorous undergraduate programs than with the need for an advanced degree.  Why not "raise the bar" for accreditation of undergraduate programs instead of increasing the education requirements?  The current proposal sounds like a recipe for downgrading both the content and the value of Masters' degrees rather than increasing the required proficiency for engineering licensure.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 4:35 PM by Paul Brown

Is there not already a shortage of engineers, particularly licensed engineers to meet the need of industry?  Seems to me that requiring a masters degree would further reduce the number of licensed engineers available and increase the cost of hiring the ones that are available.  On the plus side though, if you did get licensed you could probably demand a higher salary than your predecessors.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 4:37 PM by David

On the one hand the engineering community is screaming about the shortage of young engineers while the other hand is pushing for higher educational requirements. If I were sitting in a new student orientation class at a university today and this were presented to me I would have looked elsewhere for a career.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 4:40 PM by Nate

Although I understand the intent of this proposed law, and that is to provide more competent engineers, there is a fundamental real-world flaw with it.  

If you add up the amount of education, experience, testing, and costs associated with "raising this bar", then an aspiring engineer may might as well become a medical doctor. Engineering salaries simply cannot justify this type of cost. This would be the equivalent of requiring a teacher to have a PhD to teach high school Spanish. A teacher's salary can never afford this much education, and there comes a point where it is simply overkill.

This law to me seems to be written by college professors and leaders, in order to bring in more revenue.

How many more ways do we have to come up with to prove the same thing over and over. Most Colleges require a 5-year ABET accredited degree with fairly rigorous course material and testing, then the F.E. Exam, and then 4-years work under a licensed professional, then the P.E. exam, then CEUs....and now add Master's Degree to the mix.  There will come a point where it will no longer be attractive or cost effective to enter into the field, unless a P.E. went directly into management upon passing the exam.

Further, I find little evidence to suggest that this much education yields better engineers. Better engineers are moral and ethical people with real world experience, not by adding any more diplomas on the wall.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 5:44 PM by Mike

This video is again a slick propaganda piece that depends on cute graphics and advertising  primarily by academia and students to sell the idea of more college.  It is absurd.  At a recent NSPE (Idaho) I asked all the engineers there with over 10 years experience how many had learned over 5% of what they used in college.  One (of about a hundred) raised his hand, and I think he teaches.  

The fundamental problem of this program is that is fails to incorporate the first, most fundamental engineering principle - define the problem.  What is the problem here?  If it is lack of education, then fine, this is a solution.  If it is that a professional engineer needs to have a higher level of knowledge to ensure competence, then let's address that problem - and college does not do that.  

First, you need to require college professors of engineering be P.E.'s with real-world experience.  Without that, the blind are leading the blind and both fall in a ditch.  Second, you need to teach what is practical and real-world.  Truth is, when I received my Electrical Engineering P.E. twenty years ago, if you held up a #12 wire and a #6 wire side by side, I would have had a 50/50 shot at telling you which was which.  So much for academia.

If you are going to raise the bar, then raise it.  Academia does not have the capacity or ability to do so.  PhD's without real world engineering experience harm the engineering field - they ARE the hazard.  Book smart, without experience, is anything but intelligent - it is pure ignorance and arrogance.  Would you want your surgeon to have only academic learning when he took the scalpel to your heart?  The bar needs to be raised on academia, first.

I have posted a white paper on my website that addresses the real problem, and offers possible solutions.  I submitted it to the Idaho chapter of the NSPE a couple months ago.  Anyone interested in this subject, I welcome feedback.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 6:05 PM by Mark Babb, P.E.

This is the most counterproductive proposal I have seen in 40 plus years of my career. The undergraduate program needs to be more robust requiring Professors of Engineering Classes to be P.E.'s with actual hands on experience not simply academia credentials. The only result this proposal will do is increase funding for "Academia" and supply this Country with less Engineers because they cannot afford the waste of a Masters Degree. This is obviously brought forward by someone that has no experience in the "real world". If this passes we will have a genuine problem!

Thursday, August 23, 2012 9:49 AM by Chambers Weikel, P.E.

As a whole we are the most overly educated society where we are told and continue to tell America's youth that you cannot succeed without a college education.  Thereby forcing many to begin their adult life with extensive debt.  Requiring a master's degree will only exacerbate the problem and deter future engineers.

What's sorely missing (not just in the engineering world) is wisdom which results from the application of what has been learned in the classroom and beyond it with real-world experience.

I can only speculate that those promoting such ideas are from within the academic field and are the few that ultimately stand to gain.

This will do little to attract future talent - especially from within the US.

Thursday, August 23, 2012 3:54 PM by Michael Aiello

While I respect those who have posted negative comments, I think they miss the point. The "engineering problem", simply stated is that the breadth of knowledge required to competently practice as a PE is increasing at a rapid rate while the credit hours taught in today's bachelor degree program are falling.  Engineering competency rests on a foundation of formal education, experience, examination and continuing education.  Future generations of Professional Engineers will not receive the fundamental knowledge that they will need to practice competently with just a bachelors degree in engineering.  The National Academy of Engineering, NCEES and other national engineering leaders recognize this trend and the need for action.  PEs will need greater breadth and depth of knowledge, leadership and vision to address tomorrow's complex challenges and protect the public.  Experience alone cannot fill the void in the fundamental educational knowledge that they will need to meet these demands.

Other licensed professions have recognized this same problem and have taken action.  Recognizing that the bachelors program doesn't meet the necessary educational requirements of their professions, accountants, physical therapists, pharmacists, etc. have increased educational requirements and have seen substantial growth in the number of licensees.  Suggestions that a higher educational requirement will reduce the number of PEs in the future simply isn't supported by the facts.

There are also multiple paths to meet the higher educational requirements.  An engineering graduate pursuing a license can choose to move directly to a masters program or chooses to obtain the advanced education on-line or in any number of other venues while they gain experience.  Existing programs already support these multiple paths.

The future will demand more from PEs.  We have an obligation to assure that they are prepared to adequately protect the public health, safety and welfare.  Insisting on a higher educational standard for licensees in 2020 or beyond is part of that obligation.  I encourage everyone to think about the future of our profession, not simply the present or the past and embrace the need for higher educational requirements.

Friday, August 24, 2012 2:45 PM by Brad Aldrich, P.E., F.NSPE

I think that most will agree that more education alone does not make you a better professional engineer.  However, the irrefutable truth is that those graduating today with engineering degrees are receiving less of a formal education than in the past.  I compared my dad’s 1965 civil engineering requirements with those for 2012 grads at the same school.  The difference was 20 credits, approximately 6 classes.  That’s one full semester less of education!  Add to this the increased workload and level of responsibility for the professional engineer within a project, and it is evident to me that the current bachelors degree is not enough education.

Requiring additional education will not deter those committed to joining our profession.  There are numerous professions that require graduate degrees - -teaching, law, medicine.  Those who enter these professions understand the commitment needed to reap the rewards of their chosen field.  Those who are truly passionate about engineering will not dissuaded.  Over an entire career, the return on investment will be well worth the additional education.  The “Raise the Bar” initiative is for professional licensure only.  Those who wish to receive an engineering degree need not pursue a masters degree or take additional educational classes.  

I truly believe this is not your father’s civil engineering anymore.  It’s time that we, as a unified profession, recognize that change is needed to meet the new demands placed upon professional engineers.  I believe addressing this need begins with elevating the educational requirement to become a professional engineer.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012 2:58 PM by ANthony Puntin, PE

The raise the bar initiative has been through many years of debate among associations and individual engineers.  The National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCEES) has been the main forum for such discussions.  NCEES has moved through years of study and investigations by multiple committees.  The Council, composed of representatives of all the registration boards for engineers and surveyors is the voting body on any proposed changes to the NCEES Model Law.  This is a body of voters whose orientation is toward protection of the public health, safety and welfare.  The arguments presented above against raising the bar are not unique.  All were presented and discussed at NCEES.    The decision reached by the majority of voting members was to change the model law to require additional education as a prerequisite for licensure at some point in the future.  The process was anything but casual or reckless.   While the arguments against the proposal were not dismissed out of hand, the arguments in favor prevailed.  

The Council recognized that the shrinking number of contact hours for graduation as an engineer has been significant and widespread.  Engineering schools have been stressed by the reductions, and have had to eliminate courses from the curricula that many of us experienced several decades ago.  While that was going on, the body of knowledge for all engineering disciplines has expanded.  The educational process was challenged to do more with less.  It was not, and is not possible.  Graduates are less prepared now than they were when 150 or more semester hours were required for graduation.   Now 120 hours is the generally accepted number.  No rational person can expect the quality of education to compare favorably today with that of the past, even though the body of knowledge is broader than before.  Those of us who participated in the process found little that would run contrary to the need to upgrade the Model Law.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 9:40 PM by Bernard R. Berson, PE, F.NSPE

I am a recent engineering graduate, intending to earn my P.E. in 2015 (passed the F.E. exam during my final semester). If you had told me 5 years ago that I would need a masters degree to practice as a licensed electrical engineer, I would have picked another career.

Consider that my bachelor program was 5 years long due to co-op (internship) requirements, and that I had to BORROW $60,000 which is FIXED at 6.8% interest (actually, $45k@6.8%, $15k@7.9%, both "Federal" loans), it is insane to think that I could afford additional graduate work (at an even higher tuition than undergraduate) on an engineering salary.

More education for professional engineers? It's not a bad idea in theory. However, the current US higher education system cannot meet the requirement, and perhaps more importantly, cannot meet it in an economically justifiable manner!

Thursday, December 06, 2012 6:03 PM by Ryan

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