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Is Engineering Education the Weak Link in Licensure’s Three-legged Stool?

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Educational and Professional Issues of Strategic Importance to the Civil Engineering Profession and ASCE

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Matthew K. Swenty Virginia Military Institute

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Matthew (Matt) Swenty obtained his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Civil Engineering from Missouri S&T and then worked as a bridge designer at the Missouri Department of Transportation. After obtaining his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech, he worked at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center. He is currently a professor of Civil Engineering at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). He teaches engineering mechanics and structural engineering courses and enjoys working with his students on bridge related research projects and student competitions.

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Brian J. Swenty P.E. University of Evansville

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Brian J. Swenty, Ph.D., P.E. is a professor in the Mechanical and Civil Engineering Department at the University of Evansville. He earned his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Missouri-Rolla (Missouri ST) and his M.S. degree in civil engineering from the University of Florida. He is a licensed professional engineer in California, Florida, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. He has held positions as an active duty Army officer, a senior civil engineer with a consulting firm, and the director of Missouri’s Dam and Reservoir Safety Program. Since 1993, he has been at the University of Evansville, serving as department chair for 21 years and interim dean for 1.5 years. He continues to work as a consultant on projects involving the design and construction of new dams, modifications to existing dams, and the investigation of dam failures.

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Qualifications for engineering licensure are based on three components: education, examination, and experience. Every state uses laws and rules to define the specific licensure requirements in their jurisdiction. Examinations normally consist of the NCEES Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and the NCEES Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. Most states require at least four years of experiences after completion of an EAC-ABET accredited engineering degree. However, the education requirement is far from uniform. Many state laws include pathways to licensure for applicants with a non-accredited engineering degree, an engineering technology degree, a non-engineering bachelor’s degree, and no postsecondary degree. In the following study, state engineering laws and rules were reviewed to determine the education, experience, and examination pathways to professional engineering licensure. In particular, the accreditation requirements for applicants with EAC-ABET degrees, ETAC-ABET degrees, non-accredited engineering degrees, non-engineering degrees, and no college degrees were compared.

The study revealed that states offer a wide variety of options for applicants who do not have an EAC-ABET accredited degree to become licensed. The EAC-ABET engineering degree is universally accepted in all 50 states and provides the quickest pathway to license. Over 80% of the states provide a pathway for applicants with an engineering technology degree and over 90% of states provide a pathway for applicants with a non-accredited degree. The experience requirement was the same for engineering technology degrees and EAC-ABET engineering degrees in 12% of the states; the experience requirement was the same for non-accredited degrees and EAC-ABET engineering degrees in 44% of the states. Currently, 40% of the states allow a pathway to licensure with a non-engineering bachelor’s degree, and 28% of states allow applicants with no formal college education to obtain a professional engineer’s license. Although the examination requirements to become a licensed engineer are nearly universal, the education and experience pathways are not. The data indicates that many state licensure boards value experience and alternative education paths as much as an EAC-ABET engineering degree, making traditional engineering education the weak link in the licensure process. Any efforts to increase the education requirements will likely encounter broad challenges because of the lack of uniformity in the licensure process; the most uniform component within the licensure process is currently the examination requirement.

Swenty, M. K., & Swenty, B. J. (2021, July), Is Engineering Education the Weak Link in Licensure’s Three-legged Stool? Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37409

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