Academic Accreditation

What is accreditation?

In the United States, academic institutions and programs use accreditation to ensure that they are meeting established standards of educational quality. Accreditation is a process of peer review that is voluntary and non–governmental. Accreditation does not establish rankings of institutions or programs; however, graduating from an accredited institution or program signifies to employers, graduate schools, and licensure, certification, and registration boards that you are sufficiently prepared for entry into the profession.

Difference between institutional and specialized accreditation.

There are two types of accreditation, institutional and specialized. Institutional accreditors, such as those referred to as "regional" accreditors, examine a college or university as a whole. Specialized accreditors evaluate specific educational programs. Professional accreditors, such as those for medicine, law, architecture and engineering, fall into this category.

There are two types of accreditation, institutional and specialized.

Purdue institutional accreditation.

"Purdue University has been accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) since 1913. As part of its most recent ten–year accreditation review, the West Lafayette Campus underwent a comprehensive evaluation on November 15–17, 1999, by a team representing the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the NCA. The evaluation team reviewed the campus's ongoing ability to meet NCA's general institutional requirements and criteria for accreditation. Based on the team's report and recommendations, NCA has extended the West Lafayette Campus accreditation without reservation or stipulation until 2009–10."

Accreditation within Purdue College of Engineering.

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is a professional accrediting organization that accredits programs, not institutions. More information on ABET and accreditation can be found on the ABET Web site at http://www.abet.org.

ABET Accreditation

What is ABET accreditation?

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology is a nonprofit organization whose responsibilities include "organizing and carrying out a comprehensive process of accreditation of pertinent programs leading to degrees, and assisting academic institutions in planning their educational programs". The objective is to "promote the intellectual development of those interested in engineering and related professions, and provide technical assistance to agencies having engineering–related regulatory authority applicable to accreditation".

ABET is an agency which reviews degree granting engineering and technology programs throughout this country and much of the world. It has developed a set of criteria that specifies the minimum standards that degree programs must meet in order to be accredited.

Why is ABET accreditation important?

Graduating from an ABET–accredited program gives graduates' degree nationwide recognition, and is highly valued by employers. Employers and professional societies play a significant role in developing the criteria used by ABET to accredit programs.

Also, state licensing boards and certification programs may require graduation from an ABET accredited program during the registration or certification process for professional practice. Some states require that your degree program be ABET accredited in order to obtain a Professional Engineers License. Entry into some military jobs or programs require that you graduate from an ABET accredited program.

Accreditation procedures

In order to receive ABET accreditation, a degree program must submit an extensive self–study document and go through a three–day site visit by a team of trained assessors appointed by ABET. In the self–study document, the program must provide detailed information on all aspects of the program. These include the nature and content of required and elective courses; the number and qualifications of the faculty; available buildings, laboratories and other physical facilities; and available support staff. Information on the college must also be included. The self–study document is submitted to ABET several months in advance of the actual site visit to allow the assessors ample time to review the material.

After reviewing the self–study document, the assessor will visit the program for a three–day period. During this period the assessors may interview any faculty or students they request, as well as college and department administrators. The assessors also require detailed documentation of all required and elective coursework related to the degree program being accredited. This includes all textbooks, handouts, homework assignments, class projects and examples of graded work to indicate how the work is being graded.

Accreditation criteria

Programs are required to specify outcomes—abilities and characteristics that students are expected to possess upon graduation. These outcomes must reflect the needs of all the different constituencies the program serves—students, faculty, and employers. These constituencies must then specify a number of outcomes by which the program can assess the degree to which the specified outcomes have been achieved. ABET specifies a number of outcomes that must be included, but there is considerable freedom as to the specifics. Finally, the program has to develop and implement a process of continuous improvement, involving the collection and analysis of quantitative data regarding the program outcomes, the evaluation of this data to assess whether the program objectives are being achieved, and the initiation of actions to correct any problems that are identified.

What is required to obtain a professional engineer's license?

Regulations for becoming a professional engineer (PE) vary from state to state. Generally, the following requirements are needed to obtain a PE license:

  • A four year engineering degree from a school of engineering approved by the Accreditation Board of Engineering.
  • Proof of passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam (required to earn the Engineer in Training (EIT) title).
  • Four years of professional engineering experience under the supervision of a PE or similarly qualified engineer.
  • Proof of passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.
  • References of experience (with some from PEs).

Is becoming a licensed professional engineer important?

If you plan on becoming a consulting engineer, many clients (e.g. state, territorial and federal governments) require that the engineer in charge of the project has a PE license.

Can a person who graduates from a non–ABET–accredited program become a licensed professional engineer?

The answer is mostly yes, however, regulations vary from state to state. Some states and territories require no more than the four years of professional engineering experience under the supervision of a PE or similarly qualified engineer, proof of passing the FE exam, proof of passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam and references of experience.

If you come from a non–ABET accredited plan of study, some states may also require:

  • More than the 4 years experience under a PE. And/or
  • A letter from your school explaining the program. And/or
  • The taking of additional engineering classes. If you have taken the 47 credits of engineering courses (200 level and above) that are required for an ABET approved program, you will be in a much stronger position to argue that your Plan of Study (POS) was equivalent to an ABET approved program.