Accreditation of Engineering Programs In The USA
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Accreditation is a way of assessing the quality of education. In the United States accreditation of engineering programs is carried out by volunteers, engineering educators and practitioners who evaluate programs against criteria developed by the profession. Universities voluntarily submit their engineering programs for professional accreditation. The process is supported by various professional engineering societies, the universities that request accreditation, the volunteers who carry out the process, and their employers. The employers consider the investment of time by their engineers as volunteers to be an important responsibility which helps assure the quality of incoming generations of professionals. This paper summarizes the history of the engineering accreditation process and describes ABET (The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology), a federation of professional engineering societies which is responsible for the quality of engineering education. Included are a careful description of a "typical" accreditation review cycle, which requires about 18 months. The key events of this cycle are a self-study by the institution requesting accreditation, a visit to the university by an ad hoc team of engineers, the preparation of reports and the acceptance of the reports by the universities, and finally, the vote of the responsible ABET commission on whether or not to grant accreditation. There are six general criteria for accreditation — the faculty and its qualifications, the students - their quality and preparation, the quality of the administrative leadership, the commitment of the institution to the program, the fiscal and physical resources devoted to the program, and, finally, the educational plan or curriculum. Accreditation is granted to a program only if its characteristics meet or exceed all of the published criteria. Accreditation is granted to specific programs, e.g., electrical or mechanical engineering, not to an entire university or college. Accreditation is limited to a maximum period of six years. In the paper, attention is given to the way in which ABET releases information, and the impact that the profession, through ABET, has had on engineering education in the USA. The perception of ABET by the universities is discussed. Some attention is given to relations with the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board. Finally, the interaction between ABET and the U.S. government is described, and the implications of accreditation for the licensing of engineers in the USA is mentioned. In a second paper, to be submitted later, possibilities for extending the process internationally will be examined.