Costs to Becoming a Licensed Land Surveyor

I was listening to a podcast, Episode 19 of “Contra Krugman”, and they brought up the idea that when the state gets involved in regulating something they always drive the price higher. And while I am a student of Austrian Economic theory I had never thought about it in quite that way before. I thought I would describe how that affects the field of land surveying here on the Border between North Dakota and Minnesota.

A Board of Registration is the gate keeper of professional licensing. It is the licensing authority, though it may have a different title for some professions. We are familiar with the idea of licensed medical doctors, or the state Bar for Attorneys; in Minnesota the licensing authority is the Minnesota Board of Architecture, Engineering, Land Surveying Landscape Architecture, Geosciences and Interior Design and in North Dakota it is the North Dakota State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers & Land Surveyors. It is unclear to me how much authority a Board of Registration really has, though I liken it to any number of federal authorities such as the EPA, or Department of Education. While they do not write legislation they certainly make regulations, write procedures and impose costs, fees and penalties.

The following procedures may vary from state to state, however this procedure is active in most states with only minor variations in fees and timeline. The most visible approach to seeing how state intervention in licensing drives costs higher is to just add up the fees to be licensed, this is not a complete picture but it is a good place to start. The first of these fees is the application fee for becoming an “intern”; then there is the “intern” exam fee, usually provided through a national testing organization, in the case of Minnesota and North Dakota they use the NCEES (National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying) FS Exam (Fundamentals of Surveying). The next fee is the application fee for professional licensure, and then comes the NCEES PS (Principles and Practice of Surveying) exam fee. However because state statutes differ there is an additional exam that must be taken which tests on state specific legislation, which of course has an additional fee. After passing the last exam there is an additional fee for the state board to issue the license. Each of these fees vary, and some states waive one or more of these fees, however they are all over $100 and at least one was $400. Since I am licensed in two states the fees to become an “intern” were waived in the second state I was licensed and the FS exam results were accepted, but the remainder of the fees were charged as well as the application fee.

These fees can be a burden to individuals who are self-funding, as it was in my case (though my former employer reimbursed me for some of those fees), but many of the surveying and engineering firms will pay these fees. Which of course hides how expensive it can be from both the applicants, who don’t have to pay the fees and therefore don’t care how much they are, and from the boards who institute these fees, because they just assume the firm the applicant works for will pay the fees because that is what the majority do, without complaint.

Now that we’ve seen the visible costs of licensing we have to look a little deeper to see the many and varied invisible costs of becoming a licensed land surveyor. First one must navigate the confusing morass of legislation to understand what the minimum requirements are, assuming you are interested in the minutia, otherwise you just have to trust what is being told to you by your advisors, hoping they are up to date in their information. Minnesota’s requirements are here.

“1800.3505 EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE.

Subpart 1.Examination requirements.
An applicant for licensure as a land surveyor is required to pass written examinations as provided in this part and parts 1800.3600 to 1800.3750. An applicant for licensure under part 1800.0800, item G, shall satisfy the Minnesota licensing requirements that were in effect at the time of the applicant’s original licensure in the other state.

Subp. 2.Admission to the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) examination.
To qualify for admission to the FS examination, applicants shall present satisfactory evidence of one of the following:
A.graduation from a four-year land surveying curriculum that meets the statutory requirements in place at the time of graduation or being within 32 semester credits or 48 quarter credits of obtaining a land surveying degree from a four-year land surveying curriculum that is approved by the board; or
B.graduation from a bachelor’s curriculum that meets the statutory requirements in place at the time of graduation, or being within 32 semester credits or 48 quarter credits of obtaining a bachelor’s degree under a curriculum that is approved by the board with a minimum of 22 semester credits or 32 quarter credits in land surveying.
Subp. 3.Admission to the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) examination.
To qualify for admission to the PS examination, the applicant shall present evidence of meeting the educational and qualifying experience requirements in item A or B.
A.Graduates of a four-year land surveying curriculum must present evidence of:

(1)graduation from a four-year land surveying curriculum;
(2)successful completion of the requirements in part 1800.3600, subpart 3; and
(3)completion of a minimum of the following qualifying land surveying experience:
(a)a minimum of 160 hours of office experience in plat computations;
(b)a minimum of 160 hours of field experience in each of four or more of the following: section subdivision, boundary surveys, land title surveys, government corner restoration, geodetic surveys, staking subdivisions, and common interest communities totaling 3,120 hours or more;
(c)a minimum of 160 hours of office experience in each of four or more of the following: record research, record analysis, survey computations, description analysis, description writing, and subdivision design totaling 1,920 hours or more;
(d)a minimum of 400 hours of field or office experience in one or a combination of the following: right-of-way surveys; easement surveys; mining surveys; route location surveys, including power, pipelines, etc.; and street grade design and alignment; and
(e)a minimum of 400 hours of drafting experience in one or a combination of the following: boundary survey, topographic survey, and plats.

B.Graduates of a bachelor’s curriculum must present evidence of:

(1)graduation from a bachelor’s curriculum with a minimum of 22 semester credits or 32 quarter credits in land surveying;
(2)successful completion of the requirements in part 1800.3600, subpart 3; and
(3)completion of a minimum of the following qualifying land surveying experience:
(a)a minimum of 160 hours of office experience in plat computations;
(b)a minimum of 160 hours of field experience in each of four or more of the following: section subdivision, boundary surveys, land title surveys, government corner restoration, geodetic surveys, staking subdivisions, and common interest communities totaling 4,990 hours or more;
(c)a minimum of 160 hours of office experience in each of four or more of the following: record research, record analysis, survey computations, description analysis, description writing, and subdivision design totaling 3,170 hours or more;
(d)a minimum of 800 hours of field or office experience in one or a combination of the following: right-of-way surveys; easement surveys; mining surveys; route locations surveys, including power, pipelines, etc.; and street grade design and alignment; and
(e)a minimum of 800 hours of drafting experience in one or a combination of the following: boundary survey, topographic survey, and plats.

Qualifying land surveying experience must be obtained under the direct supervision of a licensed land surveyor. As used in items A and B, qualifying work experience consists of varied, progressive, practical experience at land surveying work. The experience must be acquired in the areas of land surveying practice listed in items A and B.“

And the somewhat more understandable, but soon to be revised North Dakota minimum requirements are here.

Surveyor Intern-Education

Experience Needed from Date of Graduation for the FS Exam-Years

ABET Accredited Engineering or Surveying Degree

0

Non-ABET Accredited Engineering or Surveying Degree

0

Two-year Surveying or Engineering Technology Degree

2

No Education-time from the beginning of the experience record

4

Professional Land Surveyor-Education

Experience Needed from Date of Graduation for the PS Exam orEndorsement-Years

ABET Accredited Engineering  or Surveying Degree

4

Non-ABET Accredited Engineering or Surveying Degree

4

Two Year Engineering Technology or Surveying Technology Degree

6

No Degree-time from the beginning of the experience record

8

Where the experience needed is in addition to the years of education.

And while this is all very interesting it doesn’t really tell you what the cost is. To do that you have tally up the tuition and fees charged by the schools, and then add up the costs of not working, and then include the difference between working in the field as an intern and working as a employee. Unlike in most other “professions” the survey internist is still paid a regular entry level wage when interning for a firm. But that has more to do with the fact that there are fewer and fewer people applying to become surveyors and surveyor technicians, and the attitude of surveyor employers than anything else.

Let me know your experiences with professional licensing

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