I was asked to address the annual meeting of the National Society of
Professional Engineers (NSPE). Since I am not a registered PE and have
been, like many of my academic colleagues, openly critical of NSPE's
relentless drive for professional registration, I was reluctant
to accept this invitation. The conference organizers assured me that
it was because of my views that I was being invited to speak and they
hoped my remarks would stimulate discussion about the future of NSPE.
Frankly, I was surprised by the positive reception that my comments
received and now feel somewhat optimistic that NSPE might alter its
primary mission and join other organizations in focusing on some of
what I consider to be the real issues facing us as engineering educators.
I share the remarks I made at this meeting in the hopes that others
might enter this dialogue with NSPE.
the famed New York Yankees catcher, once said, When you come to
a fork in the road, take it. Well, it seems to me that the National
Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) has come to a fork in the road.
The choice facing it is whether to remain on its current course, continuing
to focus on licensure, or to take a different course that
focuses on professionalism. Following the latter path will
certainly mean change; staying on the current path may mean extinction.
the stage, consider the report issued two years ago by the National
Science Foundation's Division of Science Resources Studies, indicating
that in 1995 there were about 1.6 million individuals who were employed
as engineers. Of those, 400,000 did not hold engineering degrees. Furthermore,
there were about 1.2 million individuals who held engineering degrees
and whose principal occupation was not engineering.
of the large number of practicing engineers, only 60,000 are members
of NSPE. The most likely engineering graduates to seek licensure are
those with degrees in civil engineering. However, for at least the last
seven years, enrollment in most civil engineering degree programs has
been declining. And the most popular disciplinescomputer engineering
and science, industrial engineering, and electrical engineeringproduce
graduates who work in industries that do not consider professional licensing
relevant. To compound this situation, engineering graduates today have
a much wider choice of job opportunities than ever before. In fact,
many students who pursue a B.S. degree in engineering do so because
they value the skills they will learn but intend to pursue a career
in a different profession. In this sense, the engineering degree is
becoming the liberal arts degree of the 21st century.
engineering education is undergoing major changes. For example, there
is growing interest in degree programs such as software engineering,
pharmaceutical engineering, and financial engineering. And it is unlikely
that those pursuing such degrees would value the PE license.
are fewer and fewer individuals graduating with engineering degrees
who would consider licensure as something worth seeking. But, as clearly
stated on NSPE's Web site, www.nspe.org, its primary mission is
to be the Champion for Professional Licensure. Promoting the PE
license and protecting the professional engineer title have been top
priorities for NSPE for more than 60 years. As long as licensing
remains the primary focus of NSPE, it will attract fewer and fewer new
decided to focus on professionalism, it could pursue activities that
directly enhance the engineering profession, including working with
organizations such as the American Society for Engineering Education
and universities to promote K-12 education in science, engineering,
math, and technology. It could promote learning opportunities for students
through co-op programs and internships, support affirmative action programs,
and help the public and lawmakers to understand the importance of an
engineering education and engineering research.
also want to reconsider its relationship with colleges of engineering.
While it is unrealistic and unnecessary to expect that all engineering
faculty be registered PEs, NSPE continues to push for such registration,
especially at public institutions, in most states. Moreover, NSPE's
attempt to restrain the creation of new degree programs like financial
engineering simply because it feels the word engineering is to
be reserved for areas it deems appropriate is counterproductive and
probably won't succeed anyway. The fact that engineering is encompassing
an ever increasing number of activities is to be celebrated, not feared.
indeed at a fork in the road. I hope it makes the choice to work more
closely with engineering colleges and focus more of its energies on
engineering professionalism rather than on the licensure of professional