Study Engineering in the USA
For today’s engineering student, as with many students, a wide range of educational offerings exist. A decision on which engineering program to choose can involve issues of educational quality, institutional size, program mission, faculty, placement services and educational costs. With so many factors involved, students need a gauge for decision making. Accreditation can serve as that gauge.
Study Engineering in the USA
What is accreditation?
Accreditation in the U.S. is a non-governmental process of peer review that educational institutions or programs voluntarily undertake. Educational institutions may be accredited by multiple accreditation agencies. Two forms of accreditation exist: institutional and specialized. Institutional accreditation looks at the broader educational components of an institution.
Students can get additional benefits from accreditation that looks at specific programs. Specialized accreditation involves evaluating a single program in a specific educational discipline, using specific criteria for that discipline. In the United States, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is responsible for accrediting over 2300 engineering, engineering technology and engineering-related programs at some 500 institutions.
Engineering programs accredited by ABET prepare students for a profession in which a knowledge of mathematical and natural sciences gained by study and practice is applied to the materials and forces of nature to benefit mankind. Engineering technology programs prepare students for a technologist or technician position that requires the application of scientific and engineering knowledge combined with technical skills that support engineering activities. However, it is important to note that four-year engineering technology programs prepare graduates to become technologists, not engineers.
Accreditation is a process of external review in which an educational institution and its educational programs are evaluated against a set of criteria. Most important to the ABET accreditation program is the fact that the profession determines the required criteria. This allows an accredited program to truly meet the demands of today’s engineering profession, ultimately preparing students for greater success.
The accreditation process
In the U.S. institutions choose which level of a program will be considered for accreditation. Most often, the institution selects its engineering programs at the baccalaureate level for accreditation review. The actual accreditation process examines the program’s students, curriculum, faculty, administration, facilities and institutional support. This information is gathered by the program as part of the self-study process. This is followed by a campus visit during which the program is reviewed against its self-study and the established criteria. The information gathered from the self-study and campus evaluation report then become the determining factors for accreditation. More importantly, this self-study and evaluation report can be used to improve a program’s delivery of engineering knowledge in the future.
Programs either receive accreditation or are denied accreditation. Accreditation does not provide a ranking of educational programs. ABET accreditation is for a maximum of six years, after which a program must again be reviewed.
The U.S. Department of Education recognizes ABET for the type of specialized accreditation it provides. ABET seeks recognition by the Department of Education voluntarily, not as a requirement. The U.S. Department of Education also provides students with information on the various types of recognized accreditation and the organizations responsible for different types of accreditation. For more information on this and other educational issues, visit the web site for the U.S. Department of Education at www.ed.gov or telephone 1-800-USA-LEARN. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) also recognizes ABET for its accreditation of engineering, engineering technology and engineering-related programs. The CHEA web site can be accessed at www.chea.org or telephone (202) 955-6126.
Selecting an Engineering program
When selecting an engineering program, students should look at the demands of the profession as well as the needs of potential employers. As a result, students selecting an educational institution should fully understand the benefits of accreditation.
Accreditation at the institutional level ensures that an institution meets the basic criteria for overall educational components. Specialized accreditation, such as that provided by ABET, tells students that a program has been evaluated against criteria specific to that discipline.
ABET accreditation signifies that these programs have met specific criteria that is determined by engineering professionals working in industry and education. Accreditation then becomes a tool students can use to determine a program’s responsiveness to the needs of the profession. It is with this assurance that students can make well-informed decisions when choosing to pursue an engineering degree in the U.S.
Accreditation and leisure
The importance of accreditation goes far beyond the quality of a student’s educational program. In the U.S., many states require licensure of engineers for professional practice. State licensing boards view graduation from an ABET-accredited engineering program as the first step in the licensure process. Along with work experience, the state board for engineering registration also requires passing a series of tests on professional knowledge. Graduation from an ABET-accredited program is often required of engineers who have studied in the U.S. and plan to practice back in their home countries.
To an even greater degree, accreditation, and all of the professional benefits that accompany it, are an integral part of what industry in the U.S. seeks in young engineers. Employers, as well as ABET, recognize that well-educated students become valuable employees.
Today’s engineering graduates face a new era in the profession of engineering. Engineers are now faced with issues of community and infrastructure development at a time of increasing technological advancement. With this shift comes an even greater need for young engineers who work well in a team environment, address the needs of society at large and take into consideration the political, economic and social implications of their work. This has become not only the challenge of the profession, but engineering education as well.