Engineering Licenses

Pennsylvania law includes numerous restrictions on people who work in “professional” occupations.  The jobs included in the regulatory laws include barbers, realtors, funeral directors, engineers, architects, psychologists, and almost every health- care provider, from nurses to veterinarians.  The Pennsylvania Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (the Bureau) has broad authority to license, supervise, and suspend individuals working in the regulated occupations.

A Pennsylvania college graduate recently succeeded in challenging the Bureau’s order barring him from sitting for the state examination for licensing as a an engineer.  The graduate had attended the University of Scranton, a respected private university in Pennsylvania.  He had completed the University’s four-year program, earning a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering and graduating magna cum laude.  

But when he applied to take the Pennsylvania state test for his engineering license, he was denied the opportunity even to take the test.  Noting that state regulations require that candidates for the state engineering license test must first attend an approved four-year engineering curriculum, the Bureau rejected the graduate’s application because the University of Scranton did not appear on the approved list.

Several deans from the University testified at the hearing on the graduate’s appeal to force the Bureau to permit him to sit for the test.  The deans described the University rigorous engineering curriculum and noted that the University’s students performed well in intercollegiate engineering competitions.  The deans also described the obstacles to securing state approval.

Given that the Bureau did not conduct it’s own approval process but instead deferred the approval authority to the Accreditation Board in Engineering and Technology (ABET), a national private entity, the deans described the onerous process that the University had twice followed, over a period of 10 years, to secure (ABET) approval.  Despite the University’s successful engineering program and course content, ABET had denied it approval on ground that did not have sufficient full-time faculty in the program.  Noting that another application to ABET would require the full-time attention of one of the program’s eight professors for an entire year, the deans advised that they could not afford to apply again.

After the hearing, the Bureau’s hearing board denied the graduate the right to take the test, finding that it’s regulations must be met by all candidates.  But the graduate promptly appealed the decision to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, and the graduate prevailed.  The commonwealth court found that the Bureau was not entitled to rely solely on ABET for the approval of engineering programs.  Emphasizing the fact that Pennsylvania and other state high school graduates choose engineering programs at accredited universities in the reasonable belief that those universities satisfy the Bureau’s regulations, the Court found that the Bureau has both broad authority and broad obligation to approve schools whose quality of education is satisfactory.  Concluding that the Bureau is obliged to exercise its independent judgement and to evaluate responsible engineering programs itself, the Court ordered that the Bureau permit the graduate to sit for the exam.

Before embarking on on a course of study for any occupation or profession, it is wise to fully examine the licensure process as well as the educational requirements.  Had the graduate failed in his efforts to gain access to the test, he might have had an actionable claim against the University for its failure to have advised him clearly of its status with the Bureau.  But succeeding in such a lawsuit would have resulted only in a damages award; it would not have resulted in his winning an engineering license.  To learn more about the Bureau’s authority over licensed businesses and professions, go to



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