Letters to the Editor, Continued

Click here for letters in favor of the four-year degree

You are so right.  In Alabama the surveyors believe that a four-year degree is required to become professionals and make the same money a brain surgeon makes.  Sorry, but this isn't going to happen.  The surveyors have set up the four-year degree program at Troy State University in south Alabama.  Alabama and Auburn wouldn't start a program because they didn't believe the program would attract enough students to justify it.  Now when I go to continuing education classes in north Alabama I see only more gray hair like mine.  There are no young people.  Troy State is a local school near Montgomery.  It does not attract students from north Alabama.  My son would be a good surveyor, he works for me, but doesn't want to go to Troy.  Before he could work 8 years and sit for the test.  I firmly believe that the best surveyors learn this way.  That is how I learned surveying.  I took the 2 surveying classes civil engineers must take and then I went to work.  After a number of years, I learned that I really liked surveying and went back to sit for the test.  I think I am a good surveyor, because I learned from John Daley, who worked for me.  He took me out in the field and showed me how to survey.  You can't learn that in a classroom.  Sorry, you just can't.  He learned from Gary Smith and others.
I taught at the University of Alabama while I was in graduate school and I am still not sure how you can find enough classes to fill 2 years of surveying.  And I am also not sure everyone needs the first two years of general courses to survey.  Keep up the comments I firmly support you.
Carey Busbin
Huntsville, AL

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I just read your article in the August issue and agree 100%.  I have been licensed in New Jersey since 1991, I feel I was born into the surveying field as my dad is a NJ licensed P.E. and P.L.S....been doing this (except four years in the USCG) since I was 10 years old. At 50 years old I feel some of the technology has passed me by, but I also feel some of the younger surveyors of today rely only on that technology and have no clue how to survey...I have a transit man I would put up against anyone.   Anyway, I could stay on this soap box forever.  Once again, great article.  
Thomas R. Deneka

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That was an excellent response to the four-year degree requirement fad growing in popularity around the country.  In the past 6 months, I have been meaning to write something just like what you wrote and get the other side published.  Like you, I have a four-year degree and was licensed earlier because of it.  I don't feel that I really earned it until I had a little more experience under my belt.
I learned a lot more from other surveyors about surveying than from any of the professors I had back in school...and that is nothing against them.  My degree was very good intro to the profession and an overlay of the book side of surveying.
Thanks for writing a well thought out argument against the requirement. May those in charge across the country heed your words.
Quite Sincerely,
Dan MacIsaac
Canton MA

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Dear Mr. Diggs,

I wanted to thank you for your guest editorial in the August 2010 edition of Professional Surveyor Magazine.  To give you some perspective on my opinions, please let me tell you a little about myself.  I was licensed as a land surveyor in Tennessee in 1975, (the same year you graduated from UF), and gained licensure in five other states since then.  I do not have a degree in any field but I took classes toward a degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Tennessee.  I qualified for my licensure through experience and obtained them by testing.  I have been engaged in the field of land surveying my entire adult life and have encountered both types of licensed surveyors, those that qualified by work experience and those that obtained degrees.

Through the years I have found, as one would expect, positive and negative examples of both types.  Some were true professionals, others were true incompetents and it did not seem to matter by which method they obtained a license.  It would appear that neither the achievement of a degree or any amount of testing will produce a truly professional land surveyor.

I found myself in complete agreement with your statements especially those regarding "…the elements necessary to make a true professional." A true professional has acquired the knowledge necessary from the surveying specialties in mathematics, science and law and combines it with a willingness to do whatever is required in order to get the job done right.  Again and again I have encountered surveyors that willingly do the absolute minimum in a futile attempt to comply with the various state requirements.  More often than not they fail to achieve even their less than lofty goal of meeting the minimum required by law.  I suppose their motto must be "Shoot for the bottom so you can stay there".  It appears to me that the major factor which really divides land surveyors into the groups of professional and other is what resides within the individual.  I observed many examples of this in my various travels.

While I began my career as a land surveyor in Tennessee I spent a decade working in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  I found in Virginia a surveying culture that truly recognized its deep roots in the very foundation of surveying in America.  Washington and Jefferson, among others, are true heroes to surveyors in Virginia.  I found there a desire on the part of nearly all of the surveyors to do the best possible job without regard for any other factors.  The surveyors there were the most professional that I have encountered by far and I cannot say that about the other places with which I am familiar.  (It is also worth noting that at the time Virginia did not have a degree requirement.)

Thank you again for the article and I hope that you continue to provide material for the various publications.


John M. Payne
Knoxville, TN

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I just read your article in Professional Surveyor Magazine and wanted to write you to say that I really appreciated it and agree with everything that you wrote about. I started my survey career when I was 20 in Texas and was very successful and fortunate to spend five years working for a professional who recognized aptitude and talent and rewarded it. I would still be there today if Texas did not have the four year degree requirement. I moved to California, got my LSIT and will be sitting for my LS this coming April. A four-year degree is a great thing, but making it a requirement will kill the profession.

Thanks again for your thoughts. I think you nailed it. Thank you.

Geoffrey Howland
San Diego, CA

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Thanks for your article in Professional Surveyor Magazine this month (August 2010 Vol.30 No.8).  I agree with a lot of what you wrote.  That is, until I read, "Benefits of a Degree".  I've never actually been to Florida, but I believe they have a statute of limitations, not a statue.  I'm sure it was a type error.
-keep smiling
Matt Karling

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Dear Mr. Diggs,

I applaud you on your article. I have been a surveyor and licensed in the state of Florida for over 38 years and you have stated the same feeling that I have been trying to convey to my peers.  A good surveyor learns from his mentors and acquires knowledge and professional judgment from hands on experience.  It would be an honor to work with an individual such as yourself. You show maturity, integrity and love for your profession.

I personally have been out of work for over two years, but it does my spirit good when I can share my feelings with a fellow professional.  I wish you the very best.  Last, but not least you come from good stock and your family, I'm sure is very proud of you.

Dominick Oquendo

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Just read you article in the Professional Surveyor Magazine and I agree with you 100%.  Back when I got my license (1975), Michigan had just passed the same law requiring a four-year degree to even take the test.  I was in luck because I received mine before the law took effect. I do not have a degree, but still consider myself a fairly decent surveyor.  I have had people working with me that were still in college pursuing a degree and I can tell you this, they are next to worthless when it comes to field work.  One in particular did not know what a chain, rod or any other type of measurements found in old descriptions meant.  They never learned anything about the history of surveying.  Granted, they were "book smart", but no practical knowledge.  I would much prefer to have somebody with 8 years experience working for me than someone who has four years of college and four years of experience.  Again, I agree with you that a degree does not make you a professional surveyor; only you can do that for yourself.  Thank you for your time and congratulations on a great article.

Ron Harner
Berrien Springs, MI

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Mr. Charles Diggs, RPLS
Thank you for your wisdom in writing; "A Four Year Surveying Degree Should Not be Mandatory", published on page 39, August 2010 issue of Professional Surveyor Magazine.

How many "Professional Surveyors" are still alive today that earned the title by their ability, like W. J. Richmond, Midland?

I was born in Appalachia, June 09, 1925 and before I had ever heard that word I began working (cutting line) and working my way up on an SCS war mapping survey crew at age 18 (1943) after being turned down by the army physical examination. Bad lungs from grey iron foundry fumes and Ohio valley coal smoke.

With the required twelve years of experience (required in Virginia) behind me in 1955, my application for the Certified Land Surveyor examination was turned down for lack of experience.  No applications accepted in those kind of states back then if your surname suggested an oriental background.

My family name is KIM, but was KYM when they arrived in Philadelphia from Switzerland November, 1816.

To end this THANK YOU note, after talking with the chairman of the VA State Board in person and his phone calls to the other members, I was accepted for examination and was one of three out of twenty, passing the three day examination held in the Williamsburg Lodge in November 1957.  There were only six problems with four hours allowed for each one.

They were only practical survey problems requiring a solution and description of methods used for each one.  I also provided a sketch for each one.

I immediately began private practice in Fredericksburg, VA with a (civil engineer & certified land surveyor) partner and was successful beyond any hopes for a long time after that.  

I never held a Texas license but have only done some work years ago for a FEW good ones.
With apologies for using so much self-laudatory language to say THANK YOU for your wisdom in thinking and disseminating that wisdom in writing.
Robert R. (BOB) Kim
Alpine, TX

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Morning Charlie
You have some people that agree with your thoughts and philosophy about degrees and licenses in Texas.
We need all the support possible, because some of us may make a run at removing the 'degree only' requirement in the next Austin Circus in 2011.
John Nall Jr.

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Thank you for your article in August 2010, Professional Surveyor Magazine.  I was and still am an advocate of not requiring a four-year degree.  I have a Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Texas, at Austin, with 30 hours of post-graduate studies.  I did not learn my surveying in college, but just as you have said in the field and from other surveyors.  I served eight years on the State Board of Registration and during that time I noticed that the applicants for the exam who came from a firm where they had to do it all did the best on the exam.  I am afraid that we are fighting a uphill battle with a short stick, but hope that at some time the powers to be with make the change.  I believe that a four-year degree does not make you a professional, that comes from within the person.

Thanks again for your article.

Robert (Bobby) Hall

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I read and agreed with your article in Professional Surveyor Magazine.
I started my career as a rod man and worked my way up.  I got a teaching degree along with several surveying courses but in the end preferred to remain as a land surveyor.  While I feel my degree widened my perspective and knowledge it did little to help me find monumentation and thrash through numerous deeds back in time.
I can remember sitting through a continuing ed seminar given by a well known college survey professor where he described how he did some of his surveys and thinking after that his way was an open invitation to losing a lawsuit.
Robert Nunnemacher
Boylston, MA

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I read your article with interest, on the subject of “a four-year surveying degree,” and I must say that I concur fully with your well-stated argument.  I certainly believe in education where applicable, but question whether a full four-year degree should be required for surveyors, since it is a “sub-field” of engineering.  This is not to demean the profession, one of the oldest and more important of various technical fields of endeavor, but this requirement could possibly exclude some very capable persons from achieving their potential in the profession.  You may have read an article I submitted some months ago on this subject, where I described my trek up the ranks in Bridge Construction surveying, starting out as an assistant instrumentman, and working up to party chief, then later on moving to bridge maintenance.  Surveying has been a very important part of my life, and opened the door for five trips to Israel as topo surveyor for one of my USF professors who is a well respected scholar/archaeologist, and just an all-round great guy.  What a blessing those ventures were, and I still try to stay involved in surveying here in our bridge maintenance office, in as much as possible.  We have some nice movement monitoring equipment in use on the Skyway, including GPS and a couple of automatic total stations, and from time to time I recheck a closed traverse that connects the four main dolphins around the main pylons, which is used to monitor the two towers in case of impact damage, settlement, etc., over the life of the bridge.   That traverse check requires that we take the equipment out in a boat, pull up to the dolphins and hoist the instruments up to the top (14’ above MSL), on all four dolphins, taking back shots and fore shots, and reading the distances, and it is always an enjoyable experience, as you well know, being a fellow surveyor.   

Blessings on you and yours.
Steve Womble

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Dear Mr. Diggs

I just read your guest editorial in the Professional Surveyor Magazine and agree with you 100%. I wish more people in the surveying community had the same thoughts as you. I thought the editorial was spot on about education and experience.

When I got out of high school I wanted to be a carpenter and my father suggested that I work for the company he worked for until I found something. It was after a few months and decided that I really enjoyed doing that type of work, but by then was engaged and a baby on the way (oops to late to go to school). So I learned from watching my father and his boss, asking them questions, volunteering for more challenging assignments and studying at night. I passed my PLS 9 years later and have never looked back.


 Richard E. Kinder Jr.

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Hello Mr. Diggs,
I just read your guest editorial in the August Professional Surveyor Magazine.
I have been a registered land surveyor in Arizona since February of 1980 and do not have a four-year surveying degree.  I am also registered in New Mexico and received my registration before New Mexico required a four-year degree.
I really enjoyed reading your article and thought that you were "right on" in the way you addressed the issue.   I had been vacillating between whether I thought that a four-year degree should be mandatory or not and am now convinced that it should not be mandatory.   Your article put into words what I had been thinking about but just couldn't quite formulate.
I do agree that a degree is beneficial and also agree that having a degree does not make you a professional.
Thanks for your editorial.
David L. Putt
Tucson, AZ

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Mr. Diggs,
Your article has generated some discussion amongst those of us in Arizona interested in pursuing a degree requirement.  After reading your article I submitted the following to the gentlemen in Arizona I am discussing it with:
“Having a chance to read the article I come away with the following observations:

1.   The degree alone won’t be sufficient to practice Land Surveying.
2.   Mentorship has proven to be lacking in the last 20-30 years.  I say this because the technology changes we have enjoyed have allowed us to change the way we approach the practice of Land Surveying.  Coordinate geometry, GPS, the data collector, etc., have made a significant impact on the way we survey now.  Making the knowledge of surveying theory increasingly more important.  Mentorship does not teach theory.  It teaches practice.  So you could infer that if the foundational theory behind the practice of Land Surveying is not adequately addressed because the technology used allows us to gloss over it; then the apprentice will not ultimately grasp the “why” behind how we practice.
3.   If the “why” is not grasped then the practice becomes routine based upon how mentor passed on critical knowledge.  This leaves the apprentice the inability to understand how to think outside his training when his routine does not follow the mold he was taught.
4.   Therefore the short answer is obvious.  We need both.  A graduate will have the theory by virtue of education but will lack the practice to make it work in a practical setting.  Just as the apprentice will struggle with making his training work for him when the conditions of his assignment don’t fit his training.

Mr. Diggs is correct in his assertion that a degree alone is not the answer. However his position is flawed because his assumption is that all apprentices learn the practice of surveying the same way he did.  Not all apprentices have the benefit of working for competent land surveyors.  Therefore they only learn the practice that is handed down.  It can also be stated that not all knowledge can be passed down from mentor to apprentice unless that apprentice stays with the same mentor for decades.  The average technician today will work under five maybe ten different land surveyors.  Each of these mentors might have vastly different practices to handle the same situation.  Without a grasp of the theory behind the practice, the apprentice cannot adequately formulate the true answer for any given situation.  Just as all theory and no practice will yield the same result.
The student will only apply what he was taught by his teacher without knowing an alternative practical solution.  Land Surveying cannot be taught in the classroom simply because you have to spend time getting your hands dirty in the field.  The sanitized environment of the classroom is not a substitute for this.  It will never be.  That is why the medical profession sets up several levels of apprenticeship before a graduate medical student can become a surgeon.  Medical students work under doctors before they get residency.  As residents they work under attending surgeons before they are turned loose to perform surgeries.  We need to model our system the same way.  Such as:
1.   Graduate with a degree in “surveying”
2.   Work and attain the LSIT
3.   Attain licensure and practice under peer review.
4.   Finally attain the experience for unsupervised practice.

The above model is the way my father set it up for me.  It has worked well, and I am of the opinion that I am a better “Professional Land Surveyor” for it.  However others may not agree. “
I offer my response to you both to agree yet disagree with your position.  I do offer this opinion though: attaining an education is not impossible for working families.  Not with the resources available via the internet.  The question becomes one of sacrifice and convenience.  Some “non-traditional students” make the sacrifices necessary and others choose not to.  Therefore your argument lends itself to be anecdotal in nature.  There is no glass ceiling unless it is self-imposed.  But again it is the choice of the individual.  Practicality of education is easier now than it ever was.  So ultimately I have to disagree with the position that education is impractical.  Again it boils down to choices.  Some will and have chosen to and others haven’t.
Daniel R. Muth
Springerville, AZ

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Just read your guest editorial in the Professional Surveyor Magazine.    I agree with what you've written and have made the same observations over about the same time period.   I've noted that many of the grey haired individuals who are now licensed through experience are those who now support the toughest rules.

I'm a registered PE and LS heading a company of 165 people.    We have an engineer (Colorado PE by examination) with a PHD in geology; smart, capable, focused and can't get licensed in KS because he didn't get an undergrad degree in an engineering school.   So how is it that Colorado can license him?   He can run circles around a bunch of engineers but rules are rules, set in part by "arrogant ninnies."

As a side note, your dad may not have been the best journalist, but someone passed some writing skills on to you.

Thanks for speaking up!

Ken Bengtson

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Mr. Diggs:

I will start off by saying "thank you" for a great article in the latest issue of Professional Surveyor Magazine!  I have been riding that fence for a while and I know now that I'm on your side of it.

I have an AS in Surveying with 40 hours of surveying credits.  It gave me a great foundation to begin from.  I've definitely learned a whole lot more in the last 11 and half years of my work experience.  I've definitely forgotten a lot of what I learned in the classroom in that amount of time too.

I just don't get how states can mandate a four-year degree requirement ONLY.  I feel you should have options.  A) Two-year with X amount of experience; B) Four-year with <X amount of experience; or C) Experience only which is >X.  Missouri used to be set up this way.   It gives a person options based on what he is able to do.

If someone is lucky enough to get a four-year degree in surveying, put them at the front of the line.  If you get a two-year, make them work a little longer.  If someone wants to get a few night classes in and work several years longer, let them in.  It's simple to me.  I think we would see better numbers.

Being in St Louis, it's very nice to have an Illinois license too.  There is no possible way for me to achieve that right now.  You have to have a four-year in a "related" field to surveying along with 24 hours of surveying credit.  You have to have four years experience after you receive your LSIT also.

I went round and round with the guy at the IL BOR.  Even though I have almost double the number of surveying hours, my MO PLS, and 12 years of experience along with being President of the STL Chapter of Missouri Society of Professional Surveyors, he said "not unless you have a bachelor's degree".  He said experience will never replace education.  I was dumbfounded.  How is a guy, who works full time, supposed to go back to school and get a bachelor's in a "related" field?  That's the kicker.  Anyone can get a four-year in business or whatever by taking online or night courses.  But for a "related" field, you would have to drop everything and go back to school for however long it takes to finish.  Most classes are only offered at certain times during that four year period and some you have to complete as a prerequisite for another.   So really it would take four years to do it.  I can't pay the bills sitting in the classroom!

I just applied for the Arkansas LS exam by comity.  They are welcoming me with open arms!  What was so hard about that?  Nothing.  I don't understand why one state thinks they are so high and mighty above the next.

Anyway, thanks again for the putting that article out there.  I think I may even find the digital version and send it to Mr. Grim at the IL BOR.  Haha!  

Have a good day!

Jason B. Flamm
St. Louis, MO

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Hello Charlie:

I read your article in the Professional Surveyor Magazine about the requirement for a four-year degree program for surveyors. I agree with just about everything you said except for one factor and that is the fact of public perception. In this day and age the public just expects that a professional in a technical field such as ours will have a university degree. This was really brought home to me when I was reviewing a court decision to do with water boundaries in our province. In this case the Plaintiff had hired a land surveyor to testify on his behalf. This particular surveyor, like myself, had obtained his survey commission through the old article system. On the other hand the Defendant had hired an engineer with a four-year degree to testify on his behalf. In the Judgment the first 12 pages were a review of various precedent cases involving water boundaries. In the decision, however, the judge completely ignored his own previous references to survey law and based his decision almost entirely on the fact that the engineer had more education than the surveyor and in doing so bought the engineer’s story hook line and sinker. This despite the fact that the engineer had no education in survey law. Unfortunately, public perception is just a fact of life.

Wayne Stockton
Regina, Saskatchewan

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Hey Charlie-

Thanks for your article in Professional Surveyor Magazine, especially highlighting the area that degree proponents tend to have "degree envy" of doctors, lawyers, etc.
My horror story: I was a PLS and college grad of environmental engineering from California.  When I moved to Alaska, the board forced me to go back to school to get a degree either in CIVIL engineering or "GEOMATICS ENGINEERING" because that was the only two degrees they accepted.

The result: another two years of college, (only one course of which had to be surveying in the civil program, and I luckily was able to substitute AK boundary law for surveying 101)--- voila, the board deemed me fit to take the AK exam.
This is the madness that the Phds are pushing,
Oh well, there could be worse things than education.  
I’m actually ok with a degree requirement ONLY IF: 1) affordable online courses exist, and 2) experienced surveyors can "test out" of what they don’t need.  

Since the above two items probably won’t ever happen, I’m with you for now.
Proponents say, you already can "Test out" of a course in an university.  Yes, this is correct, but you have to pay full price for the course and have to get the instructor to agree to it.    
There’s a reason the universities are in the "business pages" of a phone book.
Thanks again,
Max Schillinger

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Good Morning Mr. Diggs,
I cannot thank you enough for sharing your thoughts in the August issue of Professional Surveyor Magazine. I also believe that too much emphasis has been placed upon the four-year degree in our profession. I got my first real taste of this when I began my career as a Field Artillery Surveyor in the U.S. Army back in 1978. As a 17 year old greenhorn, granted, I commanded no respect or authority, but I witnessed numerous instances where my Non-Commissioned Officers, with many years of service, had to answer to 2nd Lieutenants, fresh out of college, simply because they had a Bachelors degree. Quite frankly, their education was no substitute for the experience these fine men and women had procured over the years.
More recently, and more relevant to your article, after 32 years of being in the profession, having dual registrations, a 10 year Adjunct Professorship at the College of Southern Nevada, and 19 years of dedicated service with the City of North Las Vegas, my position as Deputy City Surveyor, was eliminated due to layoffs, and I have found myself among the ranks of the unemployed. I have applied for 158 different positions, from Abu Dhabi, to Edmonton, Alberta, and all points in between. To date, I have had 4 interviews and 154 rejections. The overwhelming majority of the rejections have cited a lack of formal education as the primary reason for not hiring me.
At last count, the average four-year degree program requires their students to read roughly 12 survey related texts to complete a degree. I know for a fact that I have read at least that many, not to mention, technical manuals, statutes, case law recitations, and your run of the mill articles that come out in the main three survey magazines each month. All that being said, I truly believe that my best education has come from the School of Hard Knocks, self-study, trial and error, experience, and a number of very fine mentors throughout my career.
Nonetheless, I have made a pact with myself, that over the next 13 years before I hang up my plumb bob once and for all, I will acquire a Bachelors degree in Land Surveying. As of yesterday, I have gotten what I hope will be my last job, in none other than El Paso Texas, just a hop, skip, and jump away from New Mexico State University, the heralded Crème de la crème of all survey degrees. It may seem a bit spiteful, but this will allow me to look at the next education-oriented self-righteous critic and tell them just what they haven't learned yet.
Thank you again Sir for your inspirational article. It's high time that someone recognizes the value of experience within our profession.
In Gratitude,
Duane C. Price
Las Vegas, NV

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I thoroughly enjoyed your article in the August 2010 Professional Surveyor Magazine, especially the last paragraph. I must say I agree with you on the issues.

David L. Huffman

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Hi Charlie

I just read your article in this month’s Professional Surveyors magazine and you have hit the pin on the head. I live and work in Ontario Canada where the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors has had the same 4 year degree syndrome that Texas now has since the mid seventies. The effects of this requirement are now being seen as the majority of licensed surveyors are at the age of 50 to 70 and very few are 20 to 40. We are currently riding the wave towards extinction.

I attended a 2 year community college survey technician course and have been working for 25 years. I have been able to build a loyal client base and rewarding career from my efforts, however I’m at the mercy of having to work for a licensed professional on order to have the plans signed. I’m willing to take the essential courses through correspondence and sit in on the exams, but can’t. There are many of us non professionals in Ontario, everywhere in fact, that see the need to return to the “back door” approach to earning the professional designation.

Thank you for your article and maybe it will provoke some discussion.


Brian Keep, Ontario Canada

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Dear Mr. Diggs,

 I'd like to say thanks for your guest editorial in Professional Surveyor on the subject of college degrees.  It's something that needed to be said.  We need more discussion on this subject.

In Minnesota, surveying degrees were first brought into the rules in 1977; the degree requirement was firmed up in 1985.  I was licensed in 1982, one of the last to get in without a degree.  I had a couple of years of college, but that wouldn't have counted.

I knew some of the surveyors who got the degree requirement put in place in Minnesota.  They were professionally competent and meant well.  No degree program existed in Minnesota at the time, but they seem to have thought that once a degree requirement for licensure was in place, college programs would quickly be created.  It didn't work out that way.  It was another 15 years before we had a surveying degree program in Minnesota, at St. Cloud State.  That one would probably not exist either if it were not for the patience and determination of the late Dr. Robert Bixby.  The wheels of academia turn very slowly.

Due to the degree requirement, combined with the long delay in setting up the in-state degree program, we have what I call a "lost generation" of surveyors in Minnesota--people who can do the work, and could pass the State test, but can't be licensed, much like the Texas surveyors you describe.

The degree requirement had no effect on liability in Minnesota.  Our statute of limitations can run as long as 11 years, degree or no degree.

There seems to be some confusion among those who advocate college training for surveyors.  In part they seem to believe that it will increase technical skills.  It does to some extent, but as you point out it falls well short of providing a complete surveying education.  Surveying is unusual in that a lot of vitally-important knowledge is not in any book, but can only be found in the minds of experienced surveyors.  As it now stands, the only way of acquiring that knowledge is to work with an experienced practitioner.

Another apparent reason for advocating college training is a belief that it will help in getting the public to regard surveyors as professionals--that it will raise their social status, in other words.  There is nothing wrong with trying to raise the social status of a profession, but maintaining the technical skills of its members should come first.  And excluding technically-competent people is too high a price to pay for greater respect from the public.

Government regulations should focus on technical skills alone.  When it comes to protecting the public from incompetent practice, the social status of the practitioner is irrelevant.  A degree may be thought to guarantee a certain level of technical competence and thus protect the public. Unfortunately it doesn't help much.

I don't believe it is possible to go backward with this process.  I have done what I can to help improve the Minnesota degree program, and will continue to do so.  But it could be further improved, as could all surveying education programs.  As a profession, we need to find ways to systematically collect the knowledge of experienced surveyors, and make it available to those who come after them.  It would be worth doing that even if there were no degree requirements at all. Yet no matter what we do in terms of formal education, practical experience will continue to be an essential part of a surveyor's training.

Minnesota needs an alternate path to licensure for the "lost generation", and so does Texas.  In a legislative sense, it would probably work better to add the alternate path to the existing laws rather than trying to roll back the degree requirement.


John Chaffee, LS


I just finished reading the article “A Four-Year Surveying Degree Should Not Be Mandatory” and I was appalled to say the least. While the author of the aforementioned article seems to lean on the side of if you can pass the test you can be licensed, I am strongly opposed to this position. While I have been lucky enough to both work in the field and earn my Surveying/Geomatics degree at the same time, I would not trade one for the other to be licensed sooner. I had to go where the world took me, I went to two different universities, three different community colleges and it took me six long years of burning the candle at both ends to come out where I stand now and it has taken others longer. In the field you learn valuable lessons as a rod man, an instrument man and you continue learning as a chief. In school you learn about everything else.
Surveying is no longer just a chain, theodolite, math and notes type of job. We must know regular surveying, GPS, Photogrammetry, 3d Scanning, Remote Sensing, GIS, Cadastry, and the list goes on and on. Hell just being able to do a least squares adjustment with only a calculator is something that one would be hard pressed to learn on their own. We also learn so we can teach. Being a professional is as much about doing the job correctly as it is teaching younger less inexperienced people why we do things and how to do them correctly. In the past I witnessed a rod man striving to move up ask an instrument man questions about a GPS system. He asked about float and fixed solutions and what the HRMS, HDOP, PDOP numbers meant.  The instruments mans response was "I don't know but we don't stake stuff unless we're fixed and the numbers are XXX". This shows a fundamental breakdown of teaching which begins with the Professional Surveyor and trickles down through his staff. I would not want a button pusher running a surveying firm. Maybe this wasn't the case maybe the chief just never had time to explain to his crew but you get the idea.
While much of a four-year surveying/geomatics degree concentrates on just that, it also gives you a well-rounded education to be a productive leader in or owner of a company. Lets face it the high-school education system in this country is mediocre at best and doesn't really set kids up for success at any level. In college we learn about business management, accounting, finance, economics, art, history, science, physics, math, more math, and more math. We need all those courses to become a well-rounded leader and professional. To paraphrase the article, it says that a four-year surveying degree is hard for most people who wish to become licensed due to the fact that there is usually only one university per state that offers such a degree. This is true, however many more institutions are offering distance courses. If you cannot find these courses then you could take another avenue and get a degree in different major. Say a science or form of engineering and take some electives to fit your needs or take some online continuing education credits for surveying. Maybe look into a Liberal arts degree with studies in engineering, mathematics, and physics, these courses will set you up for success. Its not impossible to get a four year degree and sit for your exam. You will bring something else to the table at your firm which is a good thing. If you go this route and major civil engineering maybe you can correct the future engineers now instead of surveyors having to correct their mistakes in the future. I have had the pleasure of working for global firms and small mom and pop business, but most every surveyor I met in those firms had earned a Bachelors degree whether it be before or after they were licensed. They continued to want learn more. The statutes now say a four-year degree, not a four year surveying degree. If you want to move up it is going to take some sacrifice.


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Dear Editor,

In California the discussion about the need for a four year degree has been going on for decades. I thought that your article about this subject was meant to be a joke.  I sincerely believe this joke has gone too far.  Based upon the letters you are receiving some of your readers think that the article was supposed to be serious.  How can one be a professional surveyor with only a high school education?  I have been trying to answer this question for forty years.  None of the professional surveyors or civil engineers that I have had contact with have furnished a logical explanation.  I believe that there are a large number of surveyors that are living in a fantasy world.  They need to wake up and smell the roses.  This is 2010.  How much longer can we fool our clients, the public and other professionals who have a degree?

John K. Beck PE, LS
Mariposa, CA     

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