Fostering Innovation Through Accreditation

Think of the times in your career when you’ve been at your best. When you’ve had your greatest breakthroughs, and your greatest professional achievements. Now, think about who or what was around you during those times. Perhaps you had a peer reviewing your idea and providing feedback, or maybe it was a coach, a teacher, an editor, a business partner or a Board there to ensure your big idea was ready for the big time. Not stifling your idea, or setting up barriers, but challenging you, testing you and giving you the framework to thrive.

At ABET, that’s how we think about program accreditation — that sometimes viewed ‘cumbersome process’ of establishing criteria and setting standards is, what we believe, creates the foundation required for program innovation to take hold.

For more than 80 years, ABET has been assuring confidence in programs of applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology at the associate, bachelor and master degree levels. We pride ourselves on having the largest percentage of industry-leading Program Evaluators (PEVs), embedded within teams from academia, industry and government, who help assess the effectiveness of program elements against what industry requires. With insights from our PEVs, ABET can infuse real-time demands of the global business environment into the higher education system, further bringing innovation to bear for the students of those programs.

The importance of assuring quality in higher education is not to be taken lightly, especially at a time when many schools are facing pressure to recruit and graduate more students while also modernizing their curriculum, and often doing it all with streamlined budgets and processes. And I am not blind to the critics of accreditation, especially those who believe it acts as the barrier to innovation. Nor do I believe that the process of accreditation is without its burdens. But, with the stakes set so high for higher education, why would now be the time to cut corners in testing the effectiveness of programs?

Within the last decade, programs within university and college settings have been racing to keep pace with rapid social and technological change, to help fill the exploding demand for skilled workers in the STEM fields. ABET accreditation doesn’t just support institutions in delivering world-class programs, but it is within the accreditation experience, and the self-study process we foster that educational experiences are being built to future-proof our engineering and STEM graduates, in general.

Our criteria center on what students actually learn, with the goal to determine whether specific academic programs meet quality standards that will produce graduates prepared to enter and succeed in the global workforce as engineers, computer scientists, industrial hygienists, physicists and more. These standards are particularly relevant to ensuring consistent and quality training of the global workforce of the future.

ABET-accredited programs are implementing some of the most proactive and innovative steps to completely redesign curricula to be outcomes-based, informed by real-world business needs and to give students core discipline knowledge while retaining a student’s ability to explore individual interests. Universities that have made such adjustments report direct improvements in their ability to increase general enrollment, improve retention and develop more thoughtful and prepared graduates.

Indeed, today, engineering education, and STEM education in general, must be far more innovative than ever before. It must blur disciplinary borders, be grounded in collaboration, be informed by business, and, at its core, be customizable and flexible to the changing world around us. And not every institution will be in a position to take on the accreditation process. But, we will always listen intently and work hard to rise to those concerns — ever evolving our own criteria to build the most adaptable experience, while remaining true to the rigor of the accreditation process. Our own commitment to innovation and continuous improvement requires nothing less.

Executive Director & CEO of ABET, the global accreditor of college and university programs in the STEM disciplines.

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