The Ins and Outs of Program Accreditation: An Introduction for Faculty Members

Engineering Program Accreditation. When most people hear those words their eyes glaze over. Either they don’t understand what it is, or they feel it is not relevant to what they are doing in engineering education. As a faculty member, whether you are new to academia or are well established, you might have a similar reaction or the same questions. The purpose of this article is to provide you with more background on accreditation, IEEE’s role and suggest paths for you to learn more and get involved.

For IEEE, a technical professional association and one of the stewards of the profession, engineering program accreditation is an activity that is of great importance. Engineering Program Accreditation sets a quality standard ensuring graduates are prepared to practice when they enter the profession. This does not mean that every graduating student will become a successful professional, but it does guarantee that students have demonstrated a certain set of skills and abilities established by the accreditation criteria.

How does program accreditation work? To clarify, accreditation is not a grade. Programs are either “accredited” or “not.” Programs are evaluated against a set of approved criteria to ensure that certain educational objectives are met. This outcome is obtained by ensuring that the accredited educational programs have attained a level of performance in multiple areas that meets or exceeds minimum standards developed by experts in the field.

These criteria are established by an accrediting body. In the United States, that is ABET, formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. ABET is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that accredits programs in the applied sciences, engineering, computing and technology. IEEE is a founding member of ABET and currently is one of the 35 technical professional associations that make up ABET’s member societies. Representatives from IEEE and the other societies develop the criteria and conduct the evaluations.  Recognizing the importance of program accreditation, many countries around the world have also established accrediting bodies and other processes to develop educational criteria. (To see a list of accredited global programs use this link.)

Let’s discuss further the value of IEEE’s involvement in engineering program accreditation. IEEE’s tagline “Advancing Technology for Humanity” sets an ambitious goal . . . One that is highly dependent on having a steady flow of professionals (and IEEE members) with the technical knowledge and skills to address that aspiration, and an understanding of the societal, legal, and economic context in which technology operates.

IEEE’s involvement in accreditation activities supports the ability of the Institute to achieve that goal. The core purposes of societies like IEEE are to define and advance its fields of technical interest by creating and disseminating knowledge, supporting the professional development of members, serving as an advocate and intermediary to allied and constituent groups, and promoting ethical and professional practices. Below are three key areas that are impacted by IEEE’s participation in program accreditation:

  • Educational Criteria: Active involvement in program accreditation allows IEEE to determine the threshold set of knowledge, skills and abilities needed for successful entry into electrical, electronic and computer engineering fields, disseminate this information to a range of critical stakeholders (e.g., prospective students, academic institutions, and industry) and evaluate the performance of academic programs in producing graduates that meet these criteria. It ensures that IEEE has a voice in the educational development of these professionals who will enter our engineering, computing and technology fields.
  • Capable Professionals: Through involvement in ABET, IEEE assures that prospective students, employers, and professional stakeholders can have confidence that the output of academic programs in its fields of technical interest meet the threshold requirements of industry. It ensures graduates from these programs are prepared for practice. Graduation from an ABET accredited program also helps IEEE student members qualify for graduate admission, certain forms of financial aid, and receive preferred consideration from prospective employers.
  • Professional Development: IEEE currently has more than 300 members serving as Program Evaluators (PEVs). These IEEE members enhance their professional development and build networks that cross the disciplinary, sector and geographic boundaries by serving as ABET experts. It provides them with an ability to leverage this new knowledge and insight for their own professional growth, further the mission of IEEE, and support the enhancement of the profession.

Who benefits from accreditation? We all do. Industry gets qualified employees; colleges, universities, and faculty get a credential that indicates their program meets quality standards; students are ensured of a quality education and prepared to practice, and IEEE benefits because we play a role in shaping the future of the profession.

If you are interested in getting involved with accreditation at your institution, the best place to start is with your department head/chair or dean. The process for evaluating programs is very intensive and requires a great deal of preparation and reporting. A typical evaluation involves the review of the curriculum content, instructional resources, admission, and graduation requirements, earning outcomes and facilities. Getting involved in the process will aid in your understanding of the evaluation criteria, provide you with a chance to interface with program evaluators and at the same time support your program’s accreditation. It is well worth the effort, and it will also expand your own professional portfolio.

There are also opportunities for you to become a PEV. This is a more involved individual process and requires you to apply for a position with the association responsible for overseeing your program and similar fields of interest. To become an ABET PEV you must hold membership in one of the Member Societies of ABET. Since the ABET PEVs are selected by the member societies, each has its own requirements. IEEE accepts applications for PEVs in Engineering and Engineering Technology. There are specific requirements for the PEVs in each of these areas. To learn more, go to Program Evaluator Opportunities at IEEE.

If you are a faculty member outside of the United States, there are opportunities to serve as an IEEE PEV if you are connected to an ABET accredited program. However, because the reach and impact of accreditation has spread globally, there might be opportunities for you to get involved with accreditation from the accrediting body in your country. If you’re unsure of your program’s accreditation, contact your department head or dean. You can also find a list of accrediting bodies here.

Engineering Program Accreditation is critically important to the future of the profession, ensuring the most recent graduates are prepared to practice and establishing a link to a sustainable future with a talented pool of engineering and technology professionals. Technical professional associations like IEEE are involved because it gives them a voice in the educational process for programs in their fields of interest. For educational institutions, accredited programs demonstrate to both prospective students and employers that their programs meet a quality standard. And for graduating students, it provides verification that they graduated from a quality program, and it supports their entry into the profession.

None of this would happen without the dedication, commitment and expertise of the faculty members who support the accreditation process at their institutions and those that volunteer to become program evaluators, who contribute to the profession by improving the quality of technical education. Learn more about accreditation and make the commitment to get involved to further engineering education and the profession.