Equity for ET Grads
Engineering technology graduates should be eligible for licensure and for federal engineering positions.
By Patricia Fox
The mission of ASEE’s Engineering Technology Council is to promote quality engineering technology education. Over the years, the ETC has worked on many issues; two of the most important relate to the career prospects of engineering technology graduates from institutions accredited by ABET’s Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ETAC).
The Engineering Technology Council deems these bachelor’s degree recipients fully capable of protecting the public health, safety, and welfare, and thus advocates that they should be eligible for professional engineer licensure. In addition, we promote modification of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Engineering Qualification Standard (GS-0800) so that an ETAC/ABET-accredited baccalaureate degree would count as meeting the “basic requirements” for entry-level engineering positions with the federal government.
The ETC leadership sees these two concerns as important to equity and inclusion for B.S. ETAC graduates, both past and future. And our perspectives on both of these issues have been supported unanimously by ASEE’s Board of Directors.
Why are these issues central to ETC? Engineering technology baccalaureate programs have at least twice the percentage of African American students and significantly greater numbers of economically disadvantaged students than engineering programs accredited by ABET’s Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC), according to a 2017 National Academy of Engineering report. In addition, the National Society of Professional Engineers has found that licensed professional engineers earn higher salaries and access more job opportunities than unlicensed engineers.
Recently, investigative reporters from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and Investigative Reporting Workshop (IRW) “spent months asking lawmakers, engineers, and government agencies to explain why there’s no national standard for the licensure of engineers with four-year engineering technology degrees.” The answers, their article explained, “ranged from institutional racism to protecting the status quo to concerns over educational qualifications.”
ET educators know that the qualifications of B.S. ETAC graduates are on par with B.S. EAC graduates because both are hired as engineers in the same organizations. So, if there are unjustified barriers for B.S. ETAC graduates with respect to licensure and government employment, those barriers also disproportionately affect Black students and those that are economically and socially disadvantaged.
Engineering Technology Council leaders have been working with Lewis-Burke Associates, ASEE’s government relations firm, to arrange meetings with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to discuss the challenges with the federal designation of ET and potential remedies. Talks are ongoing, and ETC leaders believe that we are making progress s-l-o-w-l-y.
The licensure issue is also evolving gradually. Each state has its own rules on professional engineer licensure. However, there have been some recent successes. The Nevada Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors recently eliminated the requirement of two additional years of work experience for bachelor of science engineering technology (BSET) graduates to take the PE exam. A coalition of colleges and universities that offer BSET degrees in New York is encouraging that state to do the same. And the National Society of Professional Engineers’ committee on diversity, equity, and inclusion is collecting racial demographics of professional engineers in the United States. This could inform NSPE about necessary next steps to change the status quo.
Beyond these key issues, ETC leadership has also initiated conversations with ABET about the need to reword the Accreditation Policy and Procedure Manual to indicate that baccalaureate ET degrees prepare students for a professional engineering career and to include licensure on the list of qualities that demonstrate faculty competence.
Engineering Technology Council leadership has also engaged in ongoing visits to federal agencies, with assistance from Lewis-Burke Associates, to discuss how ET contributes to the next generation of STEM professionals and aids the development of an inclusive, skilled technical workforce. ETC leadership also continues to highlight the breadth of ET higher education from A.S. to Ph.D. degrees and discuss ET education success stories.
If you would like to get involved in any of this important work, please contact Marty Gordon, ETC chair, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patricia Fox is the immediate past chair of ASEE’s Engineering Technology Council and clinical assistant professor of organizational leadership in the School of Engineering and Technology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).