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To Raise the Bar or Not: Addressing the Opposition

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Reflections on the “Raise the Bar” Initiative (Part II) - Using a Decade of Experience to Chart the Future

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1361.1 - 25.1361.23



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Paper Authors


Stephen J. Ressler U.S. Military Academy

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Colonel Stephen Ressler is professor and Head of the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point. He earned a B.S. degree from USMA in 1979, a master's of science in civil engineering degree from Lehigh University in 1989, and a Ph.D. from Lehigh in 1991. An active duty Army officer, he has served in a variety of military engineering assignments around the world. He has been a member of the USMA faculty for 19 years, teaching courses in engineering mechanics, structural engineering, construction, and CE professional practice. He is a registered Professional Engineer in Virginia and a Distinguished Member of ASCE.

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To Raise the Bar or Not: Addressing the OppositionFor over a decade, ASCE has been engaged in an ambitious effort to better prepare civilengineering professionals to meet the technological, environmental, economic, social, andpolitical challenges of the future. This Raise the Bar initiative attained an important milestone inOctober 1998, when the ASCE Board of Direction formally adopted Policy Statement 465. Themost recent version of this policy is as follows: The ASCE supports the attainment of a body of knowledge for entry into the practice of civil engineering at the professional level. This would be accomplished through the adoption of appropriate engineering education and experience requirements as a prerequisite for licensure.In conjunction with the implementation of Policy 465, ASCE initiated a comprehensive effort toformally define the profession’s body of knowledge (BOK). As the BOK has been developedand refined, a concurrent analysis has demonstrated that the BOK outcomes cannot beadequately achieved through the traditional four-year baccalaureate degree. Consequently,Policy 465 specifies that the prerequisites for licensure should be (1) a baccalaureate degree incivil engineering, (2) a master’s degree or approximately 30 graduate or upper-levelundergraduate credits, and (3) appropriate progressive, structured engineering experience.ASCE is currently attempting to influence state laws to reflect the increased educationalrequirement for licensure. In 2006, with ASCE’s strong support, the National Council ofExaminers for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) modified its Model Law and Model Rulespertaining to engineering licensure. The revised Model Law and Rules state that admission tothe engineering licensing exam will require an accredited bachelor’s degree in engineering, amaster’s degree or an additional 30 credits of acceptable upper-level undergraduate or graduate-level coursework, and four years of progressive engineering experience. In 2008, the effectivedate for the new Model Law was set at January 2020.While the implementation of Policy 465 has made steady and substantial progress since 1998,the process has often been contentious. Various aspects of the initiative are opposed by theEngineering Deans Council, the American Council of Engineering Companies, and professionalsocieties affiliated with some other engineering disciplines. In April 2008, the American Societyof Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Board of Governors approved a position paper opposing theNCEES Model Law changes. This position paper, “Mandatory Educational Requirementsfor Engineering Licensure,” was subsequently endorsed by eight other professional societies andthe Executive Board of the Engineering Deans Council.The position paper presents the following major points of opposition to the new NCEES ModelLaw licensure standards:  The typical ABET-accredited bachelor’s degree provides the technical and intellectual skills necessary for licensure; thus, additional education is not required.  Declining credit-hour requirements in baccalaureate engineering programs have not caused declines in standardized test scores—primarily because computers have made the educational process more efficient.  Increased educational requirements for licensure will drive down engineering enrollments and will discourage engineering licensure at a time when the need for a technology- capable workforce is increasing.  The existing licensure system already includes provisions for continuing education.  Requiring additional education for licensure will increase the cost to individuals and employers.  If some states adopt the new licensure standards while others do not, disparities will result and licensee mobility will be reduced.  Increasing the prestige of the engineering profession is not a valid reason for changing licensure laws; the only valid basis is public well-being.  Engineers already enjoy adequate prestige, in comparison with other professions.  The body of knowledge for entry-level engineers should be based on global competitiveness, rather than licensure.The purpose of this paper is to assess each point of opposition presented in the “MandatoryEducational Requirements for Engineering Licensure,” from two complementary perspectives:  consistency with the theoretical framework of professionalism, as described in the sociological theory of professions; and  validity of each specific point of opposition, based on objective evidence, logic, and recent well-established multi-disciplinary visions of the engineering profession’s future.This analysis will show that the opposition is based, to a significant extent, on:  unsupported assertions that are inconsistent with available data;  selective use of data in a manner that distorts actual historical trends;  complacent satisfaction with the status quo;  little or no consideration of future “grand challenges” facing the engineering profession;  failure to distinguish between the roles of professionals, technologists, and technicians in the engineering workplace;  an orientation consistent with industries’ interest in maintaining a large supply of inexpensive engineering talent; and  an orientation inconsistent with the interests of an ideal-typical profession.

Ressler, S. J. (2012, June), To Raise the Bar or Not: Addressing the Opposition Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--22118

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