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FEATURE ARTICLE
Elevating Educational Prerequisites For Future Engineers
May 2004

Many Americans would be surprised – if not alarmed – to learn that the people responsible for designing their roads, bridges, buildings and drinking water are only required to hold a bachelor’s degree while doctors, lawyers, physical therapists, accountants and even elementary school teachers are expected to hold professional and graduate degrees. Despite practicing a profession where technology and techniques are ever evolving, the educational requirements for today’s young engineers are less than their counterparts’ of 150 years ago.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently released a report, Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge for the 21st Century: Preparing the Civil Engineer for the Future, outlining a plan to broaden and deepen the “Body Knowledge” required for future civil engineers. The knowledge, skills and attitudes that will be required of an individual entering the civil engineering profession in the 21st century must be broadened emphasizing leadership principles and technical specialization.

“Civil engineering must restructure its 150-year-old educational model to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” said ASCE President Patricia D. Galloway, P.E., F.ASCE. “The next generation of civil engineering professionals will be engaged in increasingly complex work, requiring knowledge both broader and deeper than the current engineering education provides.”

At the turn of the last century, civil engineering graduates completed 155 credit hours, compared to the 125 credit hours earned by most of today’s students. Civil engineering students take at least 20 fewer credits than did counterparts in the 1920s and they take a whole semester less of technical and professional engineering courses at a time when the complexity of civil engineering is escalating. In comparison, law and medical students at the turn of the last century had no more than one to four years of training, compared to the average eight years of undergraduate and graduate work today.

“Most professions – business, law and medicine – do not consider the bachelor’s degree a professional degree, yet engineering does,” said National Academy of Engineering President William A. Wulf. “With growing global competition and the explosion of new technology changing the shape of the profession, we must restructure the way we educate engineers.”

The first of any engineering discipline to develop a proposal to elevate educational prerequisites for future practicing engineers, the report recommends that a graduate degree, or the equivalent of 30 credits, and practical experience be required in addition to an undergraduate degree before a civil engineer can sit for the licensure exam and practice professionally. The plan will lead to the revision of current undergraduate and graduate programs to reflect the basic skills and knowledge that will be expected of professional civil engineers, and may eventually lead to the creation of new programs. The Body of Knowledge is developed to be flexible in how future civil engineering students pursue their education. The trend towards distance learning programs and high-quality corporate and government agency education will not be ignored and can be cultivated as an optional to traditional graduate school programs for future civil engineering student.

“As the steward of the civil engineering profession, ASCE must lead the development and implementation of this new educational model,” said ASCE Task Committee Chair Jeffrey S. Russell, Ph.D.. “The current four-year bachelor’s degree is becoming inadequate formal preparation for the practice of civil engineering in the 21st century.”

ASCE’s Committee on the Academic Prerequisites for the Professional Practice of Civil Engineering developed the recommended new Body of Knowledge that will serve as the foundation for the education of civil engineers in the future.

Through this new Body of Knowledge, ASCE can influence changes to the civil engineering curricula, as well as necessary changes in licensure requirements, to ensure that the profession will meet its obligations to serve public health and safety in the increasingly complex technological world of the future.

Knowledge, skills and attitudes that comprise the Body of Knowledge include the abilities to:

  • Apply knowledge of math, science and engineering;
  • Design and conduct experiments as well as to analyze and interpret data;
  • Design a system, component or process to meet desired needs;
  • Function on multidisplinary teams;
  • Identify, formulate and solve engineering problems;
  • Understanding of professional and ethical responsibility;
  • Communicate effectively;
  • Understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context;
  • Recognize the need for and engage in lifelong learning;
  • Know contemporary issues;
  • Use techniques, skills and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice;
  • Apply knowledge in a specialized area related to civil engineering;
  • Understand the elements of project, construction and asset management;
  • Understand business, public policy and administration fundamentals; and
  • Understand the role of a leader and leadership principles and attitudes. Founded in 1852, ASCE represents more than 133,000 civil engineers worldwide and is America’s oldest national engineering society. ASCE celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2002.


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