One of my engineering professors recently spoke about the fact that American engineers are somewhat behind the curve after graduation. While many American students focus on obtaining undergraduate degrees, engineers in many European countries are required to obtain master’s degrees before being allowed to practice. For instance, French universities require five years of study in addition to a bachelor’s degree, engineers in the United Kingdom graduate in a total of five years with a Master’s of Engineering degree and in Germany, what one achieves before a Diplom-Ingenieur — the European equivalent of a master’s degree — barely even warrants a degree.
In the U.S., becoming a professional engineer, meaning an engineer who can offer his or her services directly to the public, is by no means an easy task. You have to graduate from an accredited university’s four-year engineering program, take the two-part Fundamentals of Engineering examination, practice in the field for several years and take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. If this seems like a lot, that’s because it is. Yet, when you consider the requirements of European countries before entering college (or before entering a professional engineering career), U.S. requirements don’t seem so extreme.
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, the group responsible for administering the previously-mentioned exams, is responding to the need for better educated engineers with a more rigorous set of standards. It plans to change the requirements for becoming a professional engineer by creating a model law requiring students to take 30 credits of approved graduate-level courses before being considered for the professional engineer process. Because this is a model law, the NCEES will need the help of individual states, which are responsible for the accreditation of their engineers, to make it an actual law.
This plan will give American engineers the edge they need to stay competitive at the international level. Don’t get me wrong, engineering has a bright future and a booming job market in the U.S., but this is a matter of pride. Ask any of your engineering friends (or that guy who prints out your 100-page term paper up on North Campus for you) why they came to the University, why they would choose to take classes on North Campus and why they put up with long hours of ridiculous programming homework. It’s because the University has one of the best engineering programs in the country. And it stands to reason that these students don’t want to be just the best in the country; they want to be considered the best in the world.
I’m not saying that because engineers aren’t required to get master’s degrees that few do. My point is that those who don’t consider it could be doing themselves a disservice. The University should more actively inform its students of the potential changes for becoming a professional engineer. Maybe we could follow the example of our friends across the pond and institute a five-year program resulting in a master’s degree. Though this program would most likely involve more credits a semester and longer, more strenuous hours in the Dude, it would be worth it in two ways: by ensuring that the University is ahead of the curve and by saving students a year’s worth of graduate school tuition once this change comes.
You engineers out there may be thinking this doesn’t pertain to you right now. Maybe you’re right, but maybe you’re not. Decisive, I know. Odds are the NCEES will make these changes some time in the next decade, possibly as soon as 2015. This implies that current sophomore and freshman engineering students, who need up to four years of field experience after graduation to become professional engineers, would not have enough time to get their licenses before this change takes place. This is all the more reason that current students should consider graduate school as their best option upon graduating.
I know the future of engineering looks bright (fingers crossed), but we should consider any action that would improve our standing as professionals not only in the United States, but also in the entire global community.
Joe Sugiyama is an Engineering sophomore.