PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo SUMMER 2005 - VOLUME 14, NUMBER 9
last word
Time for a Change

By Ernest T. Smerdon

ABET SHOULD LIFT ITS RESTRICTION AGAINST ACCREDITING BOTH UNDERGRADUATE AND MASTER'S PROGRAMS AT THE SAME SCHOOL.

The 2004 report of the National Academy of Engineering entitled, "The Engineer of 2020 – Visions of Engineering in the New Century," documents today's challenges to the engineering profession. The engineer must be better prepared to be a leader in this new century of rapid change and intense global competition.

ABET Leadership Essential. To address educational needs of future engineers, we must engage key players, such as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET faces a blurring of the disciplines and proliferation of new programs with new titles. ABET has adopted a new constitution and bylaws and is updating rules and procedures for its four accreditation commissions. ABET should now review its accreditation rules that may inhibit engineering educational reform.

ABET rules now prohibit the accreditation of engineering programs of the same name at both the bachelor's and master's levels at an institution. This prohibition is unique to engineering; the other three commissions of ABET do not have such a restriction. This restriction should be removed so that individual programs can determine if it is best for their students and graduates to have both their baccalaureate- and master's-level programs accredited.

Time for Change. When this prohibition was enacted in the early 1980s, many engineering deans justifiably did not want the highly prescriptive ABET/EAC criteria of that time to be applied to their graduate programs. Possibly they feared prescriptive criteria would force their advanced level programs into a ‘cookie cutter' mold. However, graduate programs have since proliferated and their variations multiplied. Flexibility for master's programs must be sustained.

With current outcomes-based engineering accreditation criteria, there is little reason to fear cloning of graduate programs. Now, programs are encouraged to innovate in meeting their institutional goals.

Cost Issue. The concern that dual level accreditation will impose a significant additional overhead cost to the institution is legitimate. But those costs can be much less than twice the costs of the current single level accreditation if certain minor changes are made in accreditation procedures.

First, one program evaluator would be used for both the basic and the advanced level programs. Much overlap exists in the undergraduate and graduate faculties, facilities, and administration. Institutional resources such as libraries and computer facilities are the same. One person, properly trained, could evaluate both programs with perhaps an additional half day on-site, or one day for large programs. There will only be one meeting with the university officials, so the burden on the institutional leaders' time will not increase.

Second, there would be significant overlap between the undergraduate and graduate self-study documents, and they could be combined. The self-studies' form and content would be similar because both programs would utilize outcomes-based assessments. With good coordination, the financial and personnel resources should not increase that much.

Engineering departments that desire to have their basic and advanced level programs both accredited to achieve their educational objectives should be permitted to do so. However, that action must be voluntary and remain an institutional decision.

Ernest T. Smerdon is Dean Emeritus at the U. of Arizona and ASEE Past President. Supporting review of the prohibition against dual level accreditation are: Wm. Wulf of NAE; Stephen Director, of U. of Michigan; Jim Tien of RPI; Lyle Feisel of SUNY Binghamton retired; Walt Laity, Pacific NW Natl. Lab; and Pete Carrato of Bechtel Corp.. All are actively involved in engineering education reform.


 

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