Professional surveyors from across the region are making a push to stop New Mexico State University from cutting one of only a handful of four-year surveying degree programs in the United States.
NMSU’s administration is moving forward with plans to cut the Surveying Engineering program anyway, though the proposal still requires a recommendation from the Faculty Senate and approval of the university’s governing body, the Board of Regents.
Officials from the New Mexico Professional Surveyors (NMPS) met last week with NMSU’s engineering dean, Lakshmi Reddi, to urge a change of heart and offer possible financial support. David Acosta, president of NMPS and of Construction Survey Technologies in Albuquerque, said the professional association can pledge an annual gift to NMSU of “$0-$30,000 depending on many variables we have to discuss.”
NMSU’s administration, which is struggling to meet a $12.1 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year, says the university would save $340,644 each year by eliminating the Surveying Engineering program. So the possible financial support from NMPS is, at best, less than a tenth of the cost of keeping the program going.
NMSU is making other cuts, including eliminating jobs, reducing employee benefits, cutting administrator pay, and defunding its equestrian team because of the budget shortfall, which was caused largely by reductions in state funding and decreased student enrollment. All colleges and administrative divisions are being required to reduce their budgets by between 5 and 6.2 percent.
NMPS has collected dozens of letters to Reddi from New Mexico and beyond that express support for keeping the Surveying Engineering program. They include a letter from the N.M. Department of Transportation signed by Cabinet Secretary Tom Church and other DOT officials, which states that the agency currently employs seven graduates of NMSU’s Surveying Engineering program.
The letters, which Acosta provided to NMPolitics.net, communicate a consistent message: The skills taught in the NMSU program are essential for surveyors. There’s a shortage of qualified surveyors nationwide. NMSU’s program puts people to work in important jobs. Eliminating the program could lead to reduced standards for surveyors in New Mexico, which would harm the profession and put the public at risk.
For example, Andreas Linnan, New Mexico Southern Branch president for the American Society of Civil Engineers, wrote to Reddi that it is “difficult to understand” why NMSU would cut the program, “especially in a time when the Borderlands is one of the fastest growing infrastructures not only in New Mexico but in the US and Mexico.”
“Grooming an educated and qualified work force is crucial to attract and support investments in rail & road construction to create a sustainable transportation network capable to handle the anticipated cargo without destroying our environment,” Linnan wrote.
Bryan Wolfe, acting deputy director of the City of Albuquerque’s Department of Municipal Development, wrote that the city is having a difficult time filling jobs with qualified, licensed surveyors. Cutting NMSU’s program would exacerbate the problem, he wrote.
“This impact would occur at a time when the City and other organizations throughout the state are trying to prevent the ‘brain drain’ that New Mexico has so long suffered from — the loss of its young people to institutions outside the state,” Wolfe wrote.
The letters suggest an impact beyond New Mexico if the Surveying Engineering program is eliminated. John B. Guyton, CEO of Flatirons Inc. Surveying and Engineering, which has three offices around Denver, Colo., employs 11 professional surveyors. Colorado universities have no four-year surveying program, and Gutyon wrote to Dean Reddi that discontinuing NMSU’s program “will impact my business in a negative way, and reduce our ability to protect property rights and the public welfare.”
“I realize that many considerations go into the termination of a degree program,” Guyton wrote. “But I want to assure you that the need for such graduates extends beyond the borders of New Mexico.”
NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers and his administration don’t appear to be reconsidering. Asked for comment about NMPS’ efforts to save the Surveying Engineering program, university spokesman Justin Bannister said, “We don’t have anything to add at this time. Our prescribed process is continuing.”
Surveying profession ‘depends on’ NMSU
Becoming a licensed surveyor in New Mexico currently requires a four-year degree in a surveying program like NMSU’s — there are only seven of those programs across the nation — or a four-year degree in a related field such as civil engineering plus 18 surveying credit hours and work-related experience. Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque has a two-year associate’s degree program that helps students work toward a bachelor’s degree in surveying engineering at NMSU without having to spend as many years in Las Cruces.
The surveying profession “depends on the NMSU program to… fill important jobs with governmental agencies and private businesses,” said Acosta, the NMPS president.
Surveyors do many important jobs related to infrastructure, property disputes, and mapping. They’re usually the first and last people at a construction site, Acosta said. “Surveyors also assume a lot of responsibility and liability by laying out and staking the locations of buildings, utilities, drainage structures and boundary lines,” he said.
On Thursday, two surveyors with the business Wilson & Company were mapping property lines, elevation and other factors along Miranda Street in Las Cruces as the city prepares to install new lights.
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) recommends on its website that surveyors go through rigorous academic programs before doing such work. That’s meant “to protect the public from fraudulent and underqualified individuals.”
“…the main filter for public protection in a learned profession is college admission and completion of a college program, not an exam,” (NCEES) states. “Lawyers, architects, doctors, dentists, and engineers pass their professional exams at nearly a 100 percent rate because they were highly selected by (1) college admissions and (2) completing the required program.”
Acosta said NMPS fears that cutting NMSU’s program “would lower the bar to practice surveying — and this, we believe, will negatively effect the public due to less-educated professionals practicing.” Basically, he and others believe surveying could become an experience-based trade in New Mexico that requires passing a test but not completing the academic degree that is currently required.
Courts in Florida and Kentucky “have ruled that Surveying was not a profession due to the absence of a 4-year survey degree requirement” in those states, Christopher Medina, who owns Terra Land Surveys LLC in Corrales and is a past president of NMPS, wrote in an email.
New Mexico, on the other hand, has worked for decades to establish surveying as a profession, Medina wrote. That started in 1959 when surveyors formed their first professional organization. The state gradually increased educational requirements for surveyors over time. New Mexico has required a four-year degree for more than 20 years.
“With the removal of the degree requirement, the hard work that has been done for the last 50 years to promote the survey profession and hold it to a higher standard for the better of the profession and the public will be eliminated,” Medina wrote.
Technology has changed the profession dramatically, and Medina and others say educational requirements are critical today. Surveying is more than defining property boundaries, Medina wrote; it’s “the art, science, and technology of detecting the relative position of points at, above, or below the surface of the earth; or establishing such points.” That requires “a solid knowledge of advanced math, boundary law, earth sciences, computer aided drafting, technical writing, physics, and technically advanced equipment and computer programs.”
“It is critical for the public welfare that the surveyors licensed to practice within our state have that formal education that provides the knowledge, technical basis, problem solving abilities and critical thinking skills required to protect the public,” Medina wrote.
‘To serve the public good’
Daniel R. Muth, chairman of the Arizona Professional Land Surveyors Association, wrote to Reddi that NMSU has one of two accredited surveying engineering programs in the Southwest. Cutting the program, he wrote, “would be in my opinion a short sighted mistake with lasting unintended consequences.”
Muth, a 1995 graduate of NMSU’s Surveying Engineering program, wrote that “experience alone will not suffice in today’s environment to make a professional surveyor.”
“It takes a strong combination of education to reinforce foundational experience,” Muth wrote. “NMSU did that for me. I would like to see NMSU continue to provide that superior level of education to future generations of prospective surveyors.”
Curtis W. Sumner, executive director of the National Society of Professional Surveyors, which is based in Maryland, also wrote to Reddi.
“The laws of New Mexico related to professional licensing recognize that those individuals seeking to protect the property rights, and preserve the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of New Mexico as licensed professional surveyors must have obtained a four-year degree,” he wrote. “The Surveying Engineering program at NMSU is the only program in New Mexico focused specifically on providing that prerequisite education for such licensure.”
Michael J. MacInnis, another 1995 graduate of NMSU’s Surveying Engineering program who owns Native Survey Co. in Taft, Texas, wrote that he was “appalled” to learn the program might be cut.
“If the Surveying Engineering program costs more to run than it makes for the University, then so be it,”MacInnis wrote. “NMSU is a public university, and public universities exist to serve the public good, not to make a profit.”