What is ABET?
Founded in 1932 by seven Maryland engineering societies, ABET, aka the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (which was initially called the Engineer’s Council for Professional Development), is an ISO-certified, non-government, and not-for-profit organisation. ABET accredits college and university courses in four categories: engineering technology, computing, applied & natural science, and engineering.
ABET accredits only post-secondary or degree-granting programmes, as opposed to universities or colleges. Even though the headquarters of ABET is located in the U.S., it endorses institutions outside of the U.S. as well. In total, it has accredited more than 4,000 courses from 700+ universities in 32 countries.
How Can Institutions Achieve ABET Accreditation?
Obtaining an ABET accreditation for a course is not an easy feat: it involves a lengthy 5-step process that takes 18 months to complete. Before embarking upon the 5-step process, an institution should first check whether the programme falls into any of the four categories outlined above and that the programme meets the eligibility requirements set by ABET.
The 5-step ABET accreditation process is broken down below:
If a university is applying for accreditation for the first time, it must undergo a readiness review by submitting all the required information and documents by a pre-set deadline. Once the documents are reviewed, there are three possible outcomes:
- Submit a request for evaluation (RFE) for the upcoming cycle;
- Postpone the RFE submission until changes in the documentation are made; or
- Don’t submit the RFE for the upcoming cycle.
Request For Evaluation
If the course prima facie meets all the eligibility requirements and has completed the readiness review (something that is only for first-time accreditation), then the institution can submit an RFE by January 31st of the year in which it is expecting a site visit.
Self-Study Report (SSR)
Once the RFE for the course is submitted, the institution needs to submit its self-study report by July 1st. The SSR is a significant stage where the institution is given the opportunity to demonstrate that its course is fully compliant with all the criteria for ABET accreditation.
For U.S. institutions, on-site visits are usually scheduled between September and December in the same year as an RFE. Institutions outside of the U.S. will have a separate schedule.
During the on-site visit, the institution will be asked to provide assistance for the review team to schedule interviews, review display materials, visit key facilities, and more. Typically, the duration of an on-site visit lasts between 2-to-3 days.
After an on-site visit, it will take 2-to-3 months for the institution to receive a draft statement on the accreditation process. The final decision of the accreditation commission will be sent to the institution by the 31st of August.
ABET Accreditation is entirely voluntary and it will always be initiated by the institution that takes the initiative and requests accreditation for one or more of its programmes.
The validity of the accreditation is only for 6 years. After that, the institution should request re-evaluation to retain the accreditation for its course(s).
Image courtesy of ABET: the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
Why Does ABET Accreditation Matter?
Accreditation is beneficial, not only for students, but for the institutions (and employers!) too. For students, accreditation helps them to find the best engineering courses. For institutions, it helps to attract only the best talent. For employers, it helps to recruit highly talented professionals who have obtained a strong educational foundation.
Is it really necessary, however, for students to enrol on accredited engineering courses? As is often the case, it depends; and of course, the absence of an ABET accreditation doesn’t necessarily mean that the university or college is not worth considering. That being said, accredited engineering courses offer many advantages over non-accredited programmes.
A lot of multinational corporations mention accreditation as one of their criteria for eligibility when hiring candidates for key roles. For example, an organisation like NASA may not risk their reputation by hiring students from non-accredited institutions.
Besides job opportunities, accreditation also helps students to qualify for federal loans, grants, and other kinds of scholarships.
In most U.S. states, it is mandatory to hold an ABET accredited degree to apply for a professional engineering licence.
These are just a few things to consider when searching for engineering courses and weighing up the accredited programmes against the non-accreditated.