This past fall, Kentucky and South Carolina became the two most recent states to
adopt rules allowing candidates to take
the PE exam before gaining four years of
engineering experience, reflecting a wider
change of opinion in the profession.
Last August, the National Council of
Examiners for Engineering and Surveying
voted to amend its Model Law to stipulate
that candidates could take the PE exam
immediately after passing the FE exam
and before gaining engineering experience.
Candidates, however, would still need to
meet the experience requirements before
earning a PE license. NSPE is also on board
with the change. In July, the Society’s board
of directors approved a position statement
supporting the early taking of the PE exam.
These moves have prompted discussions within state licensing boards about
whether to follow suit.
The Kentucky State Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land
Surveyors decided in October to make
the change, to encourage more people to
become licensed. (NCEES administers more
than 50,000 FE exams per year but only
about half as many PE exams.) Candidates
will be able to take the PE prior to gaining
work experience starting with the April
exam, although board executive director
David Cox points out that they can also wait
if they prefer. He expects the number of PE
test takers to triple, at least initially.
Support for the move from the Kentucky
Society of Professional Engineers played a
key part, says Cox. In turn, KSPE Executive
Director Derek Guthrie, P.E., gives credit
to data NSPE had gathered on the issue
showing no significant difference in pass
rates for early test takers.
KSPE plans to send representatives
to college campuses to speak to students
about the early-exam option, which may
also provide an opportunity to educate
them about the organization and licensure,
The South Carolina State Board of Regis-
tration for Professional Engineers and
Surveyors approved the early taking of the
PE exam in November. Key factors included
the NCEES and NSPE actions. South Caro-
lina also hopes to increase the number of
The first of the year ushered in a new
regulation in California that clarifies
the criminal history background check
requirements for applicants seeking a
professional license to improve public
Applicants now must submit fingerprints to be verified by the Board for
Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors,
and Geologists before licensure can be
approved. Prior language in the regulation
waived the requirement if an applicant
submitted fingerprints to the Department
of Justice as part of a previous application.
California joins Texas, which amended
the state’s PE law to expand criminal
background checks for licensees. New
licensees and professional engineers
renewing their licenses in Texas must
submit fingerprints for a background
engineers who become licensed, including
female engineers who will now have the
flexibility to take the exam before starting
a family. South Carolina’s change will also
take place as of the April exam.
Not all states like the early taking of
the PE exam, however. In Ohio, the state
licensing board has decided to stand firm in
requiring a candidate to gain four years of
work experience prior before taking the PE.
“Quite frankly, [that change] is a solution,
but there’s been no real problem defined,”
says John Greenhalge, executive director
of the board. “We don’t see a real public
protection reason to allow them to take [the
The board, according to Greenhalge,
made its decision in the absence of studies
or reports that indicate the public health,
safety, and welfare are better served by
early test taking. In addition, he questions
whether candidates who take the exam in
a discipline other than the one they end up
working in would need to retake it.
Mobility is also a concern for Ohio.
According to Greenhalge, the board didn’t
want to cause issues for licensees who
check using a national database overseen
by the FBI.
The California board believes the
changes will enhance its efforts to protect
the public health, safety, and welfare and
will provide consumers with increased
confidence and access to competent and
In addition, a minor change to registration rules now requires all professional licensees to notify the board in
writing within 30 days of any
might want to seek comity in other states
that don’t support early testing.
But Ohio’s requirements may cause
issues for early exam takers. Unlike Kentucky
and South Carolina, which did not have to
make any statutory revisions to allow the
early PE, Ohio law states that engineering
experience must be gained 120 days before
taking the exam. Thus, any candidates who
take the exam early in other states and want
to gain comity in Ohio would have to retake
the exam, Greenhalge explains.
Comity is an issue that Guthrie says
KSPE will try to fully inform students
about. The society wouldn’t want to
advise someone to take the test early who
would later have to retake it in a state that
wouldn’t recognize their license, he says.
However, Greenhalge doesn’t believe
Ohio will lose many applications based on
what he’s seen in the last eight years as
executive director. “We don’t think it will
have a big impact on what we do and the
applications we approve,” he says.
For more on the history of this issue, see “A
Matter of Timing,” December PE.
California Background Checks
States Approve Early Taking of PE Exam