The Need For Formal Education For Registered Professional Land Surveyors In Texas

Changes in demographics during the last half of the 20th Century and the changes in surveying technology during the 1970’s and 1980’s have created a new world for the surveyor. Will his previous training methods adequately serve the public’s needs? It is this author’s opinion that the surveyor of tomorrow will require the insights provided by formal university level education to reconcile the procedures of the past with those of the future.


Formal university level education has received widespread debate in the surveying profession. Some practitioners see it as necessary to ensure a professionally competent practitioner while others consider it a waste of time and money.

In 1989, the State Legislature made sweeping revisions in the Professional Land Surveyors Registration Act. One of the new provisions in the law required a four year degree prior to registration. This provision was removed in the 1991 Legislative Session.

Educational Distribution

The surveying profession is very diversified and splintered. The educational background of the practitioners varies from those having less than a high school education to those holding PhDs from major universities. In fact, a graph of the distribution of the education level of practitioners in Texas produces a plot with two major centers or humps. One level is centered at a high school education with some college course work. The other center is at a four year degree in engineering. A study of this distribution indicates that approximately 25% of the practitioners are high school graduates and 60% hold a Bachelor of Science (BS) Degree. Ten percent hold an Associate of Arts Degree (AA) in surveying or some other field. Most of those who hold BS degrees are registered professional engineers (PE) in Texas.

The range of complexity in the individual surveyor’s practice also contributes to the diversity in surveyors’ attitudes towards formal education. Some have a limited practice concentrating on a well defined service in a well defined geographical community. Many of these find that the profession makes very few demands on their educational background. Some of these have performed competently and will continue to be successful while relying only on their experience. Other practitioners, regardless of their educational background, find themselves faced with very complicated technological and sociological issues. These surveyors find it necessary to devote much time to the formal study of survey issues.

The results of this diversity in circumstances and education is a situation similar to that of the “Blind Men of Pakistan”. The reader will remember that these blind men found themselves trying to determine what an elephant is like. One feeling the leg, one feeling the side, another the tail and still others the ears and nose. Each held a different understanding of what an elephant was like. In some ways these five men had an advantage, at least they knew that they were all blind and therein lay the clue to their disagreement. Similarly many surveyors are blind to the needs and experiences of their fellow practitioners. This leaves the industry splintered and opinionated.

Education and practice factors are essentially personal influences. They are under the control of the individual surveyors. Each has the option of obtaining more education or selecting his area of practices. Mandatory continuing education will tend to open the eyes of existing practioners to new solutions, but new surveyors will require the benefits of a formal education to grasp the impact of changing conditions.

Technology Changes

Other factors which contribute to the need for formal education are external. These are things that the surveyor cannot control. Changes in technology and changes in the social and moral issues fall into this category. These external factors impact not only how a surveyor does his work but they also impact why he does his work.

Procedures that were once dictated by long standing traditions, matching the available equipment and normal working conditions, have given way to changing procedures based on new equipment. Today’s surveyor’s work is executed under social and environmental restraints that are completely different from those encountered by his predecessors. Surveying was once concerned with the location of lines to be laid out as original work in a rural agrarian society. Today, the surveyor’s work is becoming focused on the location of points in a highly urbanized environment. The intertwining of the impact of technology and population density requires today’s surveyor to closely evaluate the presumptions behind his work.

In an attempt to separate the complicated impact of changes in technology and social issues, let’s look at the impact of technology alone. Until very recently, the minor technology changes in surveying have allowed a very mature and stable profession to exist. From the late 18th century until the mid-20th century, the only changes in surveying technology were refinements to instruments that were well known and in wide use. These instruments were predominately a compass and transit. Sometime during the first third of the 20th century, optical double centering theodolites came into use, but for all practical purposes, these were the same basic tool that had been used in the late 18th century. Distance measuring equipment remained essentially the same tool, the only change of any significance was from a linked chain to a steel ribbon. Since the industry was essentially without change throughout the period from the late 18th century to the mid-20th century a practitioner could learn his profession by apprenticeship. After all, he would do it the same way his mentor did and there was a wide range of books on the subject to study. He could then continue to practice competently without further education because the technology was not changing.

During the 1920’s, the first radical change in surveying technology began to emerge. With the recognition that radar and other wave propagation equipment could be calibrated to determine distances the chain was replaced with a new technology. Although this led to very usable and accurate distance measuring equipment, the technology had minimum impact on surveying, and essentially no impact on land boundary surveying, until the late 1960’s. About this time, miniaturization made it possible to build a reasonably functional distance measuring device. This development of distance measuring equipment, coupled with the advent of hand held calculators in the 1970’s, was the beginning of the technological revolution in surveying. In fact, it has led to a radical change in accepted procedures and equipment. Within the last 15 years, the field practice of surveying has become dominated by computer controlled surveying instruments. Surveying has ceased being the application of “line and distance” and has become the application of “locus of points”.

This sudden change in technology has placed the surveyor in a profession which can no longer be considered mature. That is to say, the technology is new, young, innovative, and without the stability of long established procedures. With technology changing at an accelerating rate, a practitioner who developed his skills under apprenticeship will not be able to understand the impact and significance of the changes without spending time in formal training. At the same time, a professional who is highly educated will find that it will be a great time savings and reduce the number of mistakes if he participates in continuing education opportunities. A young person entering the field without a well founded education cannot hope to grasp the facts of the past and the changes of the future without the benefit of a quality education.


During the period from about 1970 until the present, technology has begun to change so rapidly, and with such significant impact, that it is unreasonable to think that a practitioner who learned his trade under the optical/mechanical devices should be able to easily adapt to today’s electro-magnetic devices. And, in fact, with the advent of satellite positioning, the practice of surveying is rapidly becoming unrecognizable to those practitioners who would have been deemed technically expert as recently as 1970.

The changes in equipment and procedures is accompanied by a change in the scope and purposed of surveying practices. Since procedures are not well defined and the profession is not experienced over a long period of time using such equipment, it seems evident that practitioners, regardless of education or experience alone, must rely on formal education opportunities in order to stay competent. Further, it is unreasonable to expect new surveyors to learn old methods and educate themselves in new circumstances and technology at the same time. The only way one can hope to deal with the past, present and future when all three are changing is to be well educated. We take pride in the professional staff and technological advancement in practice at Sikes Surveying.