Engineering Continuing Education: The Case for National Standards

Should the US develop a unified continuing education standard for professional engineers?Engineering Continuing Education The Case for National Standards

In the US, professional engineers are licensed by state engineering boards that regulate the profession of engineering. These boards receive their authority to develop and enforce their rules and policies – from state laws. The result is a disparate system of standards and requirements that is often confusing to the engineering community, especially those of us who hold licenses in multiple states. The most complicated part of this system, or lack thereof, is the requirement for engineering continuing education. Each state has its own set of rules governing  the number of PDH hours an engineer must earn, the license renewal period, CEU provider approval, and specific course topics such as engineering ethics or professional conduct. In this article, we attempt to demystify the concept of engineering continuing education.

The Jargon of Engineering Continuing Education

To make the confusion worse, each state created their own jargon for continuing education. The lack of a common language makes it very difficult to compare standards from one state to another. Have you ever tried to talk to an engineer colleague in another state about engineering continuing education – you’re talking about PDH credits and he he’s referring to CEUs.

This lack of consistency from one engineering board to another is why many professional engineers and engineering boards are calling for a national standard on continuing education.

Here is the jargon currently in use. Learn these terms. Become familiar with their meanings.

Continuing Education Terms

Adding to the confusion, state boards use a variety of terms to describe continuing education. Each of these terms means the same thing (almost), although the specific details within the definition may vary from state to state.

  • Continuing Education (CE)
  • Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
  • Continuing Professional Competency (CPC)

Engineering Course Credit

State engineering boards also use different terms to describe course credit. As is the case with continuing education terms, these acronyms have similar meanings, but they are not precise synonyms.

  • PDH – professional development hour
  • CEU – continuing education unit
  • CH – contact hour

How Do I Convert PDH to CEUs

Most states define a professional development hour as one hour of instruction. The general rule of thumb is that you must spend at least 50 minutes of actual time studying a course or listening to a presentation to receive one hour of credit. A continuing education unit, also known as a CEU, is the amount of credit typically used for continuing education courses that you complete at a college or university. For this type of engineering course, 10 hours of class time is worth one CEU. The conversion rate is:

1 CEU =10 PDH units

continuing education for professional engineers

Top 10 Questions on Engineering Continuing Education

Here are the ten most commonly asked questions related to continuing education for professional engineers.

1. Does every state have an engineering continuing education requirement?

No. Currently, 42 states and territories require continuing education for professional engineers. Eight states (Arizona, Connecticut, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington) do not have a CEU requirement.

2. Does my state require continuing education?

PDH Pro has compiled a summary of state requirements, but you should consult with your State Board because as the licensee, you are ultimately responsible for making this determination.

3. When do the continuing education credits need to be completed?

Continuing education credits must be earned (i.e. completed) before the date you renew your professional engineering license. This date is different for each state. Some states renew licenses annually. Others do it biennially (every two years). Some do it every three years. Check with your State Boards.

4. How can I earn engineering PDH credits?

The answer is – it depends. In general, every state will accept college courses as long as they are technical and not remedial. Some states do not allow management or business courses, but some do. Online courses, like those offered by PDH Pro, are usually accepted. However, several states limit the number of self-directed courses an engineer can use to meet the continuing ed requirement.You can also earn credit by attending professional seminars or conferences, or by doing a presentation at one of these events. Again, the best advice is to check with each State Board where you are licensed.

5. Does my state board pre-approve PDH units and CEUs?

Six state engineering boards require professional engineers to earn their continuing education credits from “approved course providers“. Therefore, all courses must be earned from these providers if you are registered in one of these states. The remaining states do not have this requirement. The best, and consistent advice, we can offer is to check with your State Board.

6. Is taking online courses and webinars the only way to satisfy the PDH requirement?

Every state allows professionals to earn CEU credits in multiple way. You can receive PDH credits by receiving a US Patent, teaching a course, publishing a paper, or being an officer in an engineering society. Some states, like Texas, allow you to earn continuing education credit through self-study activities. Since every state has different standards, you should consult with the board to be certain.

7. Who is responsible for keeping track of my CEU credits?

This is the one area where every state is consistent. You, as the licensee, are responsible. You need to maintain proper records to demonstrate you satisfied the continuing education requirements. Keep copies (either paper or digital) of your certificates of completion, diplomas or transcripts, and any other proof of attendance for each course. If you are using an alternative PDH method, keep those records as well (publications, patents, or society activities).

8. How long do I need to keep my PDH records?

This varies from state to state. The average time is 4 years, but some states require you to keep records for 6 years. Several states require the professional engineer to submit documents during the license renewal process.

9. What do I do if I am a PE and a Surveyor with a dual license?

This is a special case. Each state treats dual licenses differently. Some states allow you to apply continuing education credit for both licenses. Other states require additional PDH credits. In addition, you may have to split the CEU credits between the two professions.

10. Are there any waivers for continuing education requirements?

In special circumstances, you may be able to waive the continuing education requirement. Most State Boards allow active duty military personnel to apply for relief. The definition of what active duty is varies and there are usually notification and verification requirements. A few states allow professional engineers to avoid continuing ed by opting for retired status. If you are disabled, have a serious illness, or experience some type of hardship, your state may allow you to request relief from this requirement.

The NCEES Model Law

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) is nonprofit engineering organization dedicated to the professions of engineering and surveying. They have developed two governing documents – the Model Law and Model Rules, that establish a comprehensive national standard for licensing professional engineers. The intent is to provide guidance to state legislatures and engineering boards that are developing laws and rules governing the practice of engineering. Most State Boards rely on the model law as the basis for updating their standards, but they often stop short of universal acceptance.

NCEES endorses continuing professional competency requirements as a condition for license renewal. Their recommendation is for professional engineers to earn 15 PDH credits every year. This standard is in place for about 2/3 of the states that require continuing education. The engineering continuing ed requirement is 15 PDH credits annually (for annual renewal) and 30 PDH credits biennially (for two-year renewal). Not every state uses the NCEES guidance. For example, the New Jersey State Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors requires PEs to earn 24 hours every two years which is only 12 PDH credits per year.

Why Should Engineers Have to Earn Continuing Education Credits

There are many questions asked by engineers on this topic.

  • What is the value of engineering continuing education?
  • Who benefits?
  • Is it worth the cost?

Continuing education for professional engineers is required as a means to protect the safety, health and welfare of the public. Professionalism and continuing education are the cornerstones of an engineering career. Together they provide the foundation of public safety.

What is the Value of Continuing Education

As professionals, we hold ourselves to a higher standard than other workers. Society also expects professional engineers to meet certain minimum standards of competency and integrity. Continuing education is essential to maintaining and improving the competency of professional engineers. This enhanced competency in turn protects the public welfare.

Continuing education standards raise the bar of the engineering profession. Credibility is essential for professional engineers to be effective. Without credibility, public trust and confidence are lost. Raising the credibility of engineering professionals allows this group to avoid interference from state legislatures in engineering decision making.

Requiring professional engineers to complete ethics training as part of the engineering continuing education requirements is a beneficial element of maintaining credibility with the public. A review of other professions reveals that mandatory ethics training is lacking. Requiring ethics courses for engineers is another way to differentiate the profession.