San Diego State University (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN18 Proceedings
Publication year: 2018
Pages: 7654-7663
ISBN: 978-84-09-02709-5
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2018.1784
Conference name: 10th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 2-4 July, 2018
Location: Palma, Spain
The author is using ABET accreditation of an Engineering program as a case study in an attempt to answer the fundamental, broader question listed in the paper title.

Accreditation by ABET is a necessary requirement of the quality of any Engineering program in the US and in several other countries worldwide. Each program needs to satisfactorily meet nine ABET criteria. Within each criterion, there are several specific expectations evaluated separately by ABET reviewers. If any of these expectations are not met to the expected degree, evaluators may assign a label of "concern","weakness" or "deficiency". The last two labels indicate that a given program is receiving a conditional, temporary accreditation that can be ultimately terminated if the specified "problem(s)" are not corrected during the prescribed time: two years and one year respectively.

The author of this paper has extensive first-hand experience with ABET accreditation of programs in his own department within a California State University system, being responsible for coordination of all ABET-related efforts in the last four accreditation cycles spanning over the last two decades. He is a strong supporter of the ABET process to assure that a fundamental quality of Engineering programs are indeed met satisfactorily.

The main purpose of this paper is to examine to what extent ABET criteria for compliance with the most current ABET rules are also true indicators of the program quality. ABET review is "horizontal" in a sense that the minimum expectations need to be met across the board: even if the program is "excelling" in almost all criteria, and yet is "deficient" in just one of them - accreditation may be withdrawn. ABET is focussed on finding "problems" - not praising "excellence".

The author postulates that ABET reviewers should be equipped with some "carrot" elements to counter the "stick" approach practiced today. His own experience as a long-time Department Chair brings several examples of quality indicators of an Engineering program that are not required by ABET - but are valued by the employers who are the best judges of the quality of our graduates. Examples of such positive elements could be: study abroad experiences of students, internships and scholarships offered by industry, availability of additional funds coming from philanthropic endowments, diversity among faculty, student participation in extracurricular activities and competitions, service to the society at large, undergraduate involvement in research activities, FE registration, job readiness, etc.

The author feels strongly that activities such as "undergraduate research" - although not specifically required by accreditation review - could be an excellent opportunity for the reviewers to list it as evidence of "program strength". Listing "positives" along with the possible "negatives" will have a strong motivational impact on the faculty and students. Quality education should not only rely on meeting all the logical and necessary accreditation criteria, it needs to go beyond that mere minimum.

There are two modifications logically available to motivate programs to strive for their continuously increasing quality:
1) include some grading system that would indicate a degree to which the required criteria are met rather than just implementing a dichotomy: met/not met.
2) utilize freely an opportunity to praise any positive activities/qualities that go beyond typical accreditation expectations.
Education quality, accreditation, ABET, motivation for improvements.