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U.S. Lags Behind

The article “Steeper Ascent: Should a Master’s Be the Minimum for Engineers?” (Summer 2012 Prism) addresses a major current issue for engineering in the United States but misses some of the most crucial arguments for movement of the professional engineering degree to the graduate level. Steeper Ascent - Should a master’s be the minimum for engineers? PLUS: Britain’s shorter route —could it work here? + BY THOMAS K. GROSE + ILLUSTRATION BY ZOHAR LAZAREngineering is the only major profession for which the U.S. professional degree is not at the graduate level. Medicine, law, business, public health, architecture, and pharmacy all build a graduate professional degree upon a broad undergraduate education. In this world where societal and political issues tie more and more with technology, engineers have no less need for breadth. Also, much of the rest of the world is already moving to put the professional engineering degree at the graduate level. Japan has done this as have most of the European universities that are adjusting degree structures in response to the Bologna Process. This includes the United Kingdom, where the master’s degree for Chartered Engineer status is taken by most engineering graduates. Thereby the U.K. is an instance of more education for engineers, not less. It is generally agreed that the U. S. should have a goal of offsetting the loss of basic engineering jobs offshore by producing a more capable engineer, but that goal does not jibe with having an amount of education in the professional degree that is less than for other countries.

C. Judson King

Provost and Sr. Vice President – Academic
Affairs, Emeritus, University of California
Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular
Engineering, Emeritus, UC Berkeley


No Compelling Evidence

A SME, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, would like to respond to Thomas K. Grose’s article “Steeper Ascent: Should a Master’s Be the Minimum for Engineers?” in the Summer 2012 Prism.

ASME has published a position paper opposing the requirement of a master’s degree or equivalent (MOE) to sit for the engineering licensing exam, the prerequisite in the current Model Law of NCEES. ASME has not found nor been shown any compelling evidence that the risk to the public’s safety and health will be decreased by adopting MOE.

ASME supports the NCEES Model Rule that continuing professional competency be required for the continuation of licensure. We also believe that requiring a master’s degree might discourage young people from pursuing engineering as a career choice.

With regard to the article’s comment about engineers who work for companies that don’t demand a license, an ASME policy states that engineers must abide by stringent product and service standards that safeguard public safety and health “issued by government, industry groups, and organizations such as ASME.” The ASME position is endorsed by nine other engineering organizations.

A coalition of these organizations is prepared to oppose the adoption of the current Model Law if it comes before individual legislatures and/or licensing boards. As ASME Past President Amos Holt said in Grose’s article, the state licensing boards are heavily laden with civil engineers “and they’re pushing this hard.” So, the coalition recognizes that this will be a challenge and welcomes support from all engineers in its efforts.

Additional information is available at

Marc W. Goldsmith

ASME President


A Vehicle to Advance Excellence

The American Society of Civil Engineers applauds ASEE’s summer edition of Prism for stimulating discussion about the future of engineering education. Preparing engineers for tomorrow’s world means that we need to consider future requirements for becoming a professional engineer. Work began on the Raise the Bar initiative more than a decade ago as many in the profession, including the National Academy of Engineering, realized that in the future it would become impossible to meet all the educational necessities for engineers in today’s traditional four-year undergraduate degree. This work resulted in the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying passing a Model Law that raises educational requirements for licensure and thereby seeks to ensure that in the future, professional engineers will have attained the body of knowledge necessary to fulfill their professional responsibilities.

We see a master’s or equivalent as the vehicle to advance technical excellence, enhance professional leadership, and continue to protect the public into the future. It’s clear that engineering has gotten much more complex, and as we move into the future, new advances such as nanotechnology and new materials will become an everyday part of what we do. Future engineers will also need to understand how to engineer new products, projects, and systems more sustainably and more economically. It will be most effective to learn this new knowledge as part of the formal educational process.

To meet the challenges of that future, we need the four components critical to licensed engineering practice to be absolutely solid: education, examination, experience, and lifelong learning. Competitor nations such as the United Kingdom have already embraced the concept of advanced education for their licensed engineers. Now is the time for the United States to Raise the Bar as well.

Andrew W. Herrmann

President 2012
American Society of Civil Engineers


Steeper Ascent - Should a master’s be the minimum for engineers? PLUS: Britain’s shorter route —could it work here? + BY THOMAS K. GROSE + ILLUSTRATION BY ZOHAR LAZAR

Engineers See the Need

I commend Prism for the balanced Summer 2012 cover story. Hopefully, this discussion will continue. My view on this issue evolved after 10 years as dean at Arizona and 2.5 years as National Science Foundation senior education associate.

Norm Augustine and John White stated that ultimately market forces will bring change. Data show that change is already occurring. To illustrate, I use data for 1966-96 from NSF’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2000 and for 2002-12 “Engineering by the Numbers,” a pdf document available from ASEE. Over the 30-year period, 1966-96, baccalaureate production increased from 35,826 to 63,114, but it peaked at 76,820 in 1986 (that number was only surpassed in 2010). Master’s production in engineering increased consistently from 13,705 to 27,761 in that 30-year period. From 1986 to 1996, master’s growth was 31.6 percent. However, during the later 10-year period, 2001 to 2011, the growth was 53.1 percent.

During 1972-92 the ratio of master’s to baccalaureate degree production was about 33 percent, ranging from 26 to 40 percent. During the last five years this ratio exceeded 50 percent, reaching 56.5 percent in 2011. Growth in baccalaureate degree production in 2011 was 5.6 percent; for the master’s it was 8 percent. So engineers clearly see a need for study beyond the baccalaureate degree and are opting for more formal education.

I served on both Phase I and II committees of the NAE Engineer of 2020 study. Our charge: Look forward two decades, and envision likely changes and make engineering education recommendations. The question to the committee was: What education will best qualify engineers to meet the 2020 challenges? The first recommendation was: The B.S. should be considered as a preengineering or “engineer in training” degree. The committee making recommendations included educators and industry representatives.

Ernest T. Smerdon

Dean of Engineering Emeritus, University of Arizona
Past President, ASEE


Adopt a Five-Year Curriculum

Proposals calling for broadening the undergraduate engineering curriculum ignore the essential aspect of time. The undergraduate curriculum is already packed to overflowing, while curriculum hours have been reduced. Public university engineering in Tennessee was reduced by the legislature to 128 hours, down from the 134 to 135 hours previously in our own curricula. Courses I still believe are needed have been dropped.

The typical undergraduate curriculum is too intense. This discourages potential students and drives away some capable students, who see their classmates in other majors working less hard. The answer to this and the concerns about course addition can be addressed in one formally simple way: We must adopt a five-year undergraduate curriculum of about 150 hours, with one nontechnical course per semester. The hurdle for public institutions, of course, is gaining state support. This objection could be met if the professional societies supported it and state engineering accrediting agencies required it. Engineering students in their fifth year could be charged a higher credit-hour rate, which should not be objectionable given that they earn more money following graduation than, for example, those in the liberal arts or education. And it is still cheaper in time and money than preparation in other professions such as pharmacy and law.

My proposal should not be equated with those calling for the master’s degree as the “first professional degree.” Given the more mathematical and theoretical content of graduate engineering courses, such study is not needed for standard engineering practice nor required for passing the FE and PE licensing exams.

James W. Hiestand

Professor of Mechanical Engineering
University of Tennessee-Chattanooga


Only a Matter of Time

I thoroughly enjoyed Thomas Grose’s article reactivating the idea of a five-year engineering degree for entrance to the engineering profession. After a half century of involvement and direct participation in this issue, I have come to believe it is only a matter of time before engineering criteria for acceptance as a qualified engineer will be substantially raised.

My career in engineering was spent for the most part in a large corporation (Deere & Company) where as vice president of engineering I contributed to setting the standards for hiring entrance-level engineers. Although we would hire engineers with a four-year bachelor’s degree, we tried to attract master’s level graduates and in the later years, Ph.D.-level engineers, as the engineering and technology skills necessary to work effectively in the intense computer-based design and manufacturing activity of a heavy equipment producer was just not well enough developed in a four-year graduate.

To bolster this activity, we also provided tuition support and company leaves for selected engineers with only four-year degrees to improve their educational status. Because our corporate base was in the states of Iowa and Illinois we came under a manufacturer’s exemption so that licensure of engineers, although desirable, really did not affect the engineering profile of our company.

In 1984 and 1985, as president of ABET, I became deeply involved in the debate over raising the entrance-level degree for recognition as an engineering professional to a five-year program. There was at that time virtually no support for the idea. Opposing arguments by companies and deans were economically based and not focused on raising or broadening the stature and capability of the engineering profession.

I am of the firm belief that the engineering curriculum leading to an engineering degree from any recognized university must be dramatically improved. I also believe that focusing on only the university experience is shortsighted and will not solve the problem.

In order for students to really be prepared for college-level engineering education, they must start training earlier than their freshman year in a university. One alternative to a five-year program at the university level would be a far more disciplined and intense technical education at the high school level. High school graduates today from a high percentage of both our public and private high schools are often ill-prepared to face the engineering discipline requirements of college-level work. I’m told that the reason the four-year degree in engineering averages 4-1/2 years is that the first year is primarily remedial. We have to solve this problem before we do anything else.

Gordon H. Millar

Port Orange, Florida.


Learning About Learning

Mary Lord made some interesting points in her article “The Right Kind of Innovation” in the Summer 2012 Prism. She wrote, “engineering education must apply to pedagogy and practice the same design process that drives continuous technological improvements.” I think that statement is true and very important. Basically, engineers design, and they should apply good design principles to their pedagogical endeavors. However, earlier in the article she also asked: “What actions and support do faculty need if they are to equip students with the knowledge and skills to tackle the world’s urgent problems . . . ?”

In the process of engineering design a certain amount of knowledge of the science underlying the design – whatever it is – is necessary for a successful design. As the article notes, students need certain “knowledge and skills” to tackle problems. Designing a course – or a portion of a course – also requires certain knowledge and skills, and not just knowledge of the subject matter. Educators also require knowledge about the learning process and skill in applying that knowledge. They need that knowledge in order to make informed decisions about “action and support” in the design of the learning experience, and it is that knowledge, I believe, which is currently missing in the background of almost all educators – not just engineering educators. The article suggests that they already have that knowledge.

We often find educators taking courses and workshops on active learning. They adopt it, but when a problem occurs they relegate active learning to the junk heap. I believe that happens because they don’t understand why it works.  Using the terms from your article, they know the right “actions and skills,” but they don’t have the “knowledge.” I think that engineering educators are firstly engineers, and engineers often want to know why something works before they can be convinced to use it.

The “scholars” want the culture to shift, but they first need to think about the conditions necessary for that culture shift.

Edward (Ed) J. Mastascusa

Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus
Bucknell University
Lewisburg, PA.



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