Module 1: Beginning with the Basics
A. What to Expect From the New Team Chair Training Program
We are pleased to confirm your participation in the New Team Chair (TC) Training Program. The New TC Training is organized according to six (6) information modules that provide increasing depth and detail about ABET accreditation and your role as a Team Chair.
The first five (5) modules each conclude with a Proficiency Assessment, several multiple choice questions to test your knowledge and understanding of the material in the module. You are required to complete each Proficiency Assessment. You will need to be on-line to complete these Proficiency Assessments. The results will automatically be recorded and the correct responses sent to you via email. The results will also be provided to your commission executive committee.
You are also required to complete and submit a Draft Statement editing exercise. The exercise and instructions for submitting it to a reviewer from your commission executive committee are located at the end of Module 5. The reviewer will evaluate your edited Draft Statement and provide feedback to improve your statement writing.
B. Who Is Involved in the ABET Accreditation Process?
The Accreditation Process requires the participation of many individuals, institutions, and organizations:
- ABET’s member societies
- Institutions and programs requesting accreditation
- Team Chairs
- Program Evaluators
Each of ABET’s more than two-dozen member societies is invited to have representation on one or more of the four ABET commissions, according to the curricular areas that the ABET Board of Directors assigns to those societies.
The four commissions are:
- the Applied and Natural Science Accreditation Commission (ANSAC);
- the Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC);
- the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC); and
- the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ETAC).
The commissions are responsible for administering the ABET Accreditation Process, conducting accreditation reviews, and determining accreditation actions (by vote of the entire commission), based on the Accreditation Policies and Procedures Manual (APPM) and on the Criteria. The commissions are also responsible for the continuous review and enhancement of criteria, policies and procedures.
The leadership of the four accreditation commissions forms the Accreditation Council (AC). The Accreditation Council is responsible for improving the effectiveness, efficiency, and uniformity of the accreditation process. Changes to the ABET Criteria and to the Accreditation Policies and Procedures proposed by the commissions and Accreditation Council are approved by the ABET Board of Directors. Please click here to see an ABET organization chart.
C. What Is Accreditation?
In the United States, accreditation is a non-governmental, peer-review process that assures the quality of students’ postsecondary education. Educational institutions or programs volunteer to undergo this review periodically to determine if certain criteria are being met. Outside the United States, accreditation is not necessarily voluntary nor non-governmental. Please visit the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (www.unesco.org) for more information on the world’s postsecondary education systems and their quality assurance mechanisms.
Accreditation is not a ranking system. It is an assurance that a program or institution meets established quality standards. In addition, the role of ABET accreditation is to provide periodic external review in support of the program’s continuous improvement process.
D. ABET Vision and Mission
ABET is recognized as the worldwide leader in assuring quality and stimulating innovation in applied and natural science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology education.
ABET serves the public globally through the promotion and advancement of education in applied and natural science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology. ABET:
- Accredits educational programs.
- Promotes quality and innovation in education.
- Consults and assists in the development and advancement of education worldwide in a financially self-sustaining manner.
- Communicates with our constituencies and the public regarding activities and accomplishments.
- Anticipates and prepares for the changing environment and the future needs of constituencies.
- Manages the operations and resources to be effective and fiscally responsible.
E. ABET's Philosophy of Outcomes-Based Accreditation
ABET’s accreditation procedures and processes historically have been intended for programs that prepare graduates for entry into a profession appropriate to the program’s discipline. The decision on the appropriate accreditation action for a program is made on the basis of the extent to which the relevant criteria for the program are met. It is the institution’s responsibility to demonstrate how the program meets the relevant criteria.
ABET’s current accreditation processes are strongly oriented toward continuous quality improvement and outcomes-based accreditation. Continuous quality improvement (CQI) is “an underlying philosophy of quality which leads an organization to systematically analyze its systems for variance, make decisions based on facts, consciously define the organization’s internal and external customers and actively seek input from both sets of customers. It drives out fear by encouraging organization members to risk making mistakes in order to learn more about the system” (Mimi Wolverton, A New Alliance: Continuous Quality and Classroom Effectiveness).
An educational program CQI process should reflect a clear understanding of:
- Processes (internal practice to achieve the outcomes)
- Facts (data collection)
- Evaluation (interpretation of facts) and
- Action (feedback to support decision making and improve processes)
F. Overview of Accreditation Process
The entire program review process is typically 19 months long.
Step 1: The process begins in January of the first year, when the institution requests accreditation for its programs.
Step 2: The on-site review is usually conducted between September and December of the first year.
Step 3: After the on-site review, the Team Chair develops a Draft Statement to the institution by editing and combining the material written by the Program Evaluators and adding material that applies to the institution as a whole.
Step 4: The Draft Statement is reviewed by two editors from the respective commission and by ABET headquarters staff for adherence to standards and consistency with other Draft Statements.
Step 5: The edited Draft Statement is sent to the institution, which has 30 days to respond to any shortcomings identified in the statement.
Step 6: The Team Chair uses the response from the institution, with assistance from the PEV as needed, to prepare the Final Statement, which again is edited and then provided to the full Commission for action.
Step 7: Final accreditation decisions are made at the Summer Commission Meeting in July of the second year.
The steps listed above describe only the actual program review process. The entire accreditation process involves continuous CQI processes by the program, as well as significant efforts to prepare a self-study and collect course and assessment materials. A more complete illustration of various efforts and activities required for an accreditation review are shown in this PDF file.
G. Types of Reviews
There are several types of reviews:
- General Review (GR) – A comprehensive review that addresses all applicable criteria and policies. It consists of the review of a self-study report prepared by the program and an on-site review by a visit team. General Reviews are conducted for each accredited program at intervals no longer than six years for continuous accreditation. Teams for GR on-site reviews will typically consist of a Team Chair and one PEV for each program being reviewed. Minimum team size is three members.
- Interim Report (IR) – An interim review following an Interim Report accreditation action (one or more Weaknesses were noted in the prior review). An Interim Report consists of a review of a report prepared by the program that addresses the Concerns and Weaknesses described in the Final Statement from the prior review. Note: new Concerns, Weaknesses, and Deficiencies can be cited should they surface during the conduct of an Interim Report review. A Team Chair will typically review the interim report.
- Interim Visit (IV) – An interim review following an Interim Visit accreditation action (one or more Weaknesses were noted in the prior review). An Interim Visit consists of an interim report prepared by the program that addresses the Concerns and Weaknesses described in the Final Statement from the prior review and an on-site review focused on the Concerns and Weaknesses described in the Final Statement from the prior review. Note: new Concerns, Weaknesses, and Deficiencies can be cited should they surface during the conduct of an Interim Visit. Teams for IV on-site reviews will typically consist of a Team Chair and one PEV for each program being reviewed.
- Show Cause Report (SCR) – An interim review following a Show Cause accreditation action (one or more Deficiencies were noted in the prior review) in which a progress report is required to evaluate remedial actions taken by the institution. A Show Cause Report consists of a review of an interim report prepared by the program that addresses the Concerns, Weaknesses, and Deficiencies described in the Final Statement from the prior review. Note: new Concerns, Weaknesses, and Deficiencies can be cited should they surface during the conduct of a Show Cause Report review. A Team Chair will typically review the interim report.
- Show Cause Visit (SCV) – An interim review following a Show Cause accreditation action (one or more Deficiencies were noted in the prior review). A Show Cause consists of an interim report prepared by the program that addresses the Concerns, Weaknesses, and Deficiencies described in the Final Statement from the prior review and an on-site review focused on the Concerns, Weaknesses, and Deficiencies described in the Final Statement from the prior review. Note: new Concerns, Weaknesses, and Deficiencies can be cited should they surface during the conduct of a Show Cause Visit. Teams for SCV on-site reviews will typically consist of a Team Chair and one PEV for each program being reviewed. Minimum team size is three members
H. Expectations of Team Chairs
The Team Chair is a member of the commission (or, occasionally, a former member), appointed by the Commission Executive Committee to lead the visit team. The Team Chair is primarily responsible for the fair and accurate review of an institution’s programs. The Team Chair:
- is the primary contact with the institution and with the dean of each program being evaluated;
- is involved in approving the composition of the visit team;
- leads the visit team;
- manages visit logistics with the institution;
- assembles the Draft Statement; and
- presents the findings to the ABET commission at the Summer Commission Meeting in July.
The detailed responsibilities of the Team Chair will vary depending on the size of the visit team and commission. Also, Team Chairs may use different leadership approaches and organizational strategies to ensure a successful visit. Some Team Chairs, for example, may conduct conference calls with their team prior to the visit. Some may request an additional team meeting while on the visit.
All Team Chairs should demonstrate the ABET Team Chair Competency Model before, during, and after the visit.
Please Note: Team Chairs represent ABET and the profession (applied science, computing, engineering, or technology) in all interactions with the team and institution; the Team Chair role transcends member society membership.
Team Chairs also have knowledge of the accreditation criteria, policies, and procedures, taking advantage of all Team Chair training opportunities. Effective communication, both orally and written, is a critical competency of a Team Chair. Communication with the institution, team, and ABET is required throughout the entire visit process.
The Team Chair is responsible for writing the Draft Statement at the conclusion of the visit. The Draft Statement includes criterion-centered statements of finding and observation and adheres to the formats and standards established by ABET and the commission.
Just as important, the Team Chair needs to effectively manage the team, their interactions with each other and the institution. This includes identifying common issues between programs and guiding the team to resolution. The Team Chair must also demonstrate respect for the institution, institution personnel, and visit team members throughout the process. This includes respecting others time by making arrangements well in advance and organizing team activities to best make use of everyone’s time. Lastly, the Team Chair provides leadership to the visit team by fostering an environment in which team members can speak freely and make criteria-focused decisions.
For some commissions, the Team Chair is expected to conduct two reviews per year. The reviews may not both be visits; one or both may be reports. Team Chairs who are commissioners are also expected to attend the Summer Commission meetings, vote on the accreditation status of programs up for accreditation, vote on criteria and other issues brought to the commission by its executive committee, and to serve on one of the commission’s standing committees (i.e., Criteria, Training, and Documents/Forms).
New commissioners (primarily in EAC) may be assigned to serve as a Co-Team Chair on their first visit. In this assignment, the New Team Chair works with an experienced Team Chair to plan and conduct a review at an institution with a large number of programs. The experienced Team Chair takes the lead in communications with the institution and the program evaluators. It is critical that the two Team Chairs communicate early and often to clarify roles and responsibilities and coordinate the visit.
Team Chairs commit to a significant amount of work. Some of this work must be done prior to the visit. Experienced Team Chairs spend the equivalent of one week, spread over a four to five-week period, on activities associated with the on-site visit. They also participate in the Summer Commission Meeting in July. As a Team Chair, you are required to commit to the pre-visit preparation, at least one on-site visit, data gathering and analysis, report preparation, and report presentation at the Summer Commission Meeting. You should agree to serve only if you can keep this commitment.
Once set, the visit dates should not be changed. Most importantly, having accepted the assignment as Team Chair, you must make a firm commitment to be present to serve as a leader of the visit team. It is very difficult to obtain an effective replacement on short notice, especially for Team Chairs, and it is not reasonable to expect, and often not possible for the institution to accommodate, a change of visit dates.
Important Note: Most newly appointed Team Chairs have found it helpful to inform their supervisors of their planned participation in an ABET accreditation visit. This may result in a greater appreciation of your commitment and, possibly, lay the groundwork for assistance with conflicting time demands.
I. ABET Code of Conduct
ABET requires ethical conduct by each volunteer and staff member engaged in fulfilling the mission of ABET. The organization requires that every volunteer and staff member exhibit the highest standards of professionalism, honesty, and integrity. The services provided by ABET require impartiality, fairness, and equity. All persons involved with ABET activities must perform their duties under the highest standards of ethical behavior.
Take a moment and read The ABET Guidelines for Interpretation of the Code of Conduct.
J. Confidentiality of Information
Information provided by the institution is for the confidential use of ABET and its agents, and will not be disclosed without specific written authorization of the institution concerned. The contents of all materials furnished for review purposes and discussion during the Summer Commission Meeting are considered privileged information. The contents of those documents and the accreditation actions taken may be disclosed only by ABET staff and only under appropriate circumstances. All communications between institutions and evaluators or commissioners regarding final accreditation actions must be directed to ABET Headquarters.
Take a moment to read the Confidentiality of Information Section of the APPM now. This can be found in Section II.B. of the APPM.
K. Conflict of Interest
Service as an ABET commission member, alternate, or Team Chair creates situations that may result in conflicts of interest or questions regarding the objectivity and credibility of the accreditation process. ABET expects these individuals to behave in a professional and ethical manner, to disclose real or perceived conflicts of interest, and to recuse themselves from discussions or decisions related to real or perceived conflicts of interest. The intent of this policy is to:
- Maintain credibility in the accreditation process and confidence in the decisions of the Board of Directors, committee members, commission members, Team Chairs, program evaluators, consultants and staff members;
- Assure fairness and impartiality in decision-making; and
- Avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Team Chairs must not participate in any decision-making capacity if they have or have had a close and active association with a program or institution that is being considered for official action by ABET. Close and active association includes, but is not limited to:
- Current or past employment as faculty, staff, or consultant by the institution or program;
- Current or past discussion or negotiation of employment with the institution or program;
- Attendance as a student at the institution;
- Receipt of an honorary degree from the institution;
- Involvement of a close family relative as a student or employee of the institution or program;
- An unpaid official relationship with an institution, e.g., membership on the institution’s board of trustees or industry advisory board; or
Any reason that prohibits the individual from rendering an unbiased decision.
Team Chairs must not serve in an accreditation consulting role to any program or institution during their service on the commission.
Conflict of Interest Scenarios
While these scenarios were created to protect you from conflict of interest difficulties, keep in mind these same scenarios can also be potential issues for the PEVs on your visit team. You should also be prepared to offer guidance to PEVs so that they may better adhere to the ABET Code of Conduct.
Your nephew attends the institution you have been assigned to visit.
While you may first think of this as a fortunate opportunity to see where a close relative is studying, it can bring problems. Serving as Team Chair to the institution can be viewed by others as self-serving. Any family relationship with an enrollee at the institution, even if the family member is not in any of the programs to be reviewed, is an indicator of potential conflict of interest. Decline this visit. You should list such institutions in your ABET biography accessible through the secure site. Also, review Procedure item 1 in the ABET Conflict of Interest Policy for more detail.
You went to graduate school with one of the faculty members in the program you are reviewing.
In this scenario, you open yourself to a charge of bias, either for or against the program. You should decline this visit. Again, review Procedure item 1 in the ABET Conflict of Interest Policy for more detail.
You are asked to review/provide feedback on accreditation documentation for a program for which you serve on an advisory committee.
At first glance, this seems to be a helpful action. Your accreditation expertise can be put to a good use. However, this helpful act can put you in an inappropriate position of speaking officially for ABET. If the program is seeking interpretation of the ABET criteria and/or policies, have the program make contact with the ABET Accreditation Director. You do not want to be placed in a position where you could be misadvising or improperly representing yourself. See Section IV.B. of the ABET Rules of Procedure, “Guidelines for Interpretation of the Code of Conduct,” for guidance.
Your home organization has a relationship with the institution/program you are visiting but you are not personally involved.
In this scenario, you know you have no direct conflict of interest, but a connection could be inferred by others. This is a situation where the appearance of a conflict of interest is possible. Decline this visit. Read the ABET Conflict of Interest Policy opening paragraph to see we must avoid even an appearance of conflicting interests.
You are asked to lead an ABET themed session in one of your professional society’s conferences.
This scenario is more difficult to navigate. While ABET itself is comprised of many professional societies, the missions of ABET and the professional society may not completely overlap. There are designated staff in both ABET and the member societies that serve as the liaisons between the organizations. You must not appear to usurp this function. When you are volunteering for ABET, you must place ABET’s interests foremost. As such, you would not want to place yourself in a position as “speaking for ABET” or to have any appearance of a conflict of interest. It would be best to avoid leading the session for this reason. Interestingly, the ABET Guidelines for Interpretation of the Code of Conduct require you to assist in professional development of colleagues. This would indicate that your participation in the session could meet that role, if your input was limited to providing objective information concerning ABET (e.g., changes in criteria, policy and procedure information, and other items with no subjective content from you), included a disclosure of your role with ABET, and did not lead to any personal profit from the event. If in doubt, consult the ABET Accreditation Director first. Always err on the side of ethics and caution.
ABET’s Code of Conduct, Conflict of Interest, and Confidentiality Policies in the APPM are available for your review.
L. Overview of Accreditation Criteria
Programs must be in compliance with the criteria and ABET’s Policies and Procedures to achieve accreditation. As a Team Chair, you are responsible for ensuring that each PEV evaluates the institution’s programs against the criteria. These criteria are intended to:
- Ensure the quality of educational programs.
- Foster the systematic pursuit of quality improvement in educational programs.
- Help develop educational programs that satisfy the needs of constituencies in a dynamic and competitive environment.
It is the responsibility of the institution seeking accreditation to demonstrate clearly that the program meets the criteria.
M. Understanding the Criteria
Using the criteria to evaluate a program’s compliance begins with understanding the criteria. ABET Criteria are based on the principles of continuous quality improvement. General Criteria cover the following areas of an educational program:
- Program Educational Objectives
- Student Outcomes
- Continuous Improvement
The criteria document is composed of two parts: General Criteria and Program Criteria. The General Criteria are applicable to all programs accredited by the appropriate ABET Commission. The Program Criteria provide discipline-specific accreditation criteria. Programs must show that they satisfy all of the specific Program Criteria implied by the program name.
The criteria are purposely stated in broad general terms so that each institution may decide the best way to prepare a student for a career in the discipline. ABET has no desire to dictate detailed course content or coverage requirements.
The criteria are reviewed and revised each year to incorporate appropriate changes suggested by ABET constituencies. It is therefore important to ensure that the applicable set of criteria is used in evaluating the institution’s programs.
Please take a moment to read your Commission’s Criteria. The term “ABET Criteria” refers to both General and Program Criteria, as appropriate.
N. Common Issues Associated with Each Criterion
ABET Criteria are minimum standards that you apply with judgment. Over the years, ABET has identified common issues that may surface as you review a program’s Self-Study Report for evidence of compliance. The issues listed below for each criterion area are not exhaustive. You may identify additional issues as you review the Self-Study Report. Additionally, some issues listed here may not by themselves represent a shortcoming relative to the criteria, but rather may indicate a need to seek additional information in order to determine whether there is a shortcoming. Remember that each shortcoming must refer to specific requirements in the criteria that are not fully met or potentially may not be met in the future.
The Accreditation Policy and Procedures Manual (APPM) details the objectives, responsibilities, policies, and procedures of ABET accreditation.
Common issues found in each criteria follow.
- Problems with student advising.
- Ineffective or inconsistent advising.
- Lack of understanding of curricular requirements, especially if many options are available.
- Ineffective monitoring.
- No documentation of course substitutions or missing prerequisites.
- Problems with transfer process.
- No documentation on acceptability of transfer credits.
Program Educational Objectives
- Program educational objectives are not published or readily accessible to the public.
- Program educational objectives are not related to institutional mission or are inconsistent with the mission.
- Program educational objectives are not consistent with the needs of the program’s various constituencies.
- Program educational objectives do not describe what graduates are expected to attain within a few years after graduation.
- There is no indication as to who are the program’s constituents.
- There is no evidence that the needs of the program’s constituents have been considered in the formulation of the program’s educational objectives.
- There is no process to periodically review the program educational objectives.
- There is no evidence of constituency involvement in the periodic review of program educational objectives.
- Not all elements of the Criterion 3 required outcomes are addressed.
- Student outcomes are stated such that attainment is not measurable. Having student outcomes whose attainment is not measurable is not by itself a violation of any criterion, but if attainment of an outcome is not measurable then the extent to which it is attained may not be appropriately evaluated, as required in Criterion 4.
- There is missing or incomplete justification as to how the student outcomes prepare graduates to attain the program educational objectives.
- The student outcomes do not reflect what the students should know and be able to do at the time of graduation.
- There is no process to periodically review and revise the student outcomes. (ASAC, CAC, and ETAC only.)
Continuous Improvement: Processes
- There are no systematic assessment and evaluation processes to measure the extent to which program educational objectives and student outcomes are attained.
- The assessment and evaluation processes are not documented.
- The program cannot demonstrate that the processes do what they claim.
- The assessment, evaluation and improvement cycle is not complete.
Continuous Improvement: Assessment
- Indicators of student performance have not been defined and/or no a priori level of student performance has been established. (Although there is no criteria requirement for performance indicators or a priori levels of performance, without these or something equivalent it may be difficult to appropriately evaluate the extent to which student outcomes are attained, and additional information may be needed to determine the appropriateness of the evaluation process for outcomes attainment.)
- The program uses only anecdotal results (versus measured results).
- No data are available on the attainment of program educational objectives and/or student outcomes.
- Inappropriate assessment processes are used by the program. For instance, the program relies only on course grades as assessment of one or more student outcomes. There are many factors, rarely all relating to a single student outcome for the program, that are used to determine a course grade. Thus the level of granularity of course grades relative to student outcomes is almost always too coarse for course grades to be used as reliable indicators for attainment of specific student outcomes.
- There is an over-reliance on student self-assessment (e.g., surveys) as opposed to assessment methods based on actual student performance. As a general rule, student self-assessment of outcomes attainment is considered much less reliable than attainment data from actual student performance relative to each outcome.
- Assessment data are being collected for only some outcomes.
Continuous Improvement: Evaluation
- The data collected are not analyzed and used as input to a program improvement process.
- The continuous improvement process appears to ignore evidence that students are not attaining the student outcomes.
- The evaluation of data does not provide the information needed to make program improvements.
Continuous Improvement: Results
- Program improvement plans are developed but not implemented.
- There is no documentation of how the results of assessment and evaluation processes are used to determine needed program improvements.
- Results of the evaluation of program educational objectives and student outcomes are not used to make needed improvements to the program educational objectives and student outcomes.
- There is no evidence that improvement efforts are being assessed and evaluated.
The program must provide evidence that it has a working and effective system in place. The program must describe a clear relationship between program educational objectives, student outcomes, and measurable indicators of success with required levels of achievement. Note that objectives, outcomes, and continuous improvement are linked closely together.
A program’s curriculum provides the foundation for entry into the profession. The curriculum criterion varies among the commissions so the following issues related to this criterion may not all be applicable to your commission.
- Curriculum fails to meet semester credit hour requirements (if specified by criterion)
- Quality of the culminating or integrated experience, or comprehensive project, capstone or major design experience (if required by the criterion)
- No culminating experience
- Several courses with elements of a comprehensive project but not pulled together as such
- Multiple culminating courses with widely varying quality
- Variation in culminating courses taught by different instructors
- Culminating design experience not addressing multiple constraints and appropriate standards (EAC only)
- Insufficient number, e.g., the low number of faculty is negatively impacting the ability to deliver the program with a negative impact on students’ ability to attain student outcomes
- To support concentrations, electives, etc.
- To maintain continuity and stability
- Poor faculty morale affecting the program
- Lack of professional development
- Excessive workloads
- Retention/turnover rate
- Heavy reliance on temporary faculty appointments or adjuncts, potentially jeopardizing program stability
- Insufficient responsibility and authority to improve the program
- Insufficient space
- Overcrowded laboratories and classrooms
- Unsafe conditions
- Some essential equipment inoperable
- Lack of modern instrumentation
- Insufficient computing/information infrastructure
- Lack of software/hardware needed to support the curriculum
- Unstable leadership affecting programs
- Dean and/or program head positions open or filled by interim appointments for an extended period
- Frequent turnover of university administration and unit leadership
- Inadequate operating budget affecting
- Acquisition and maintenance of laboratories and appropriate equipment
- Faculty salaries, promotions, or professional development
- Issues with hiring and retention of faculty and staff
- Insufficient support staff
- Teaching assistants
- Technicians for instructional laboratories, machine shops, and laboratory services
O. Module 1 Summary
In summary, the Team Chair plays a critical role in the accreditation process. The Team Chair must be: technically current with the ABET accreditation criteria, policies, and procedures; be an effective communicator with all parties involved in the accreditation process; be able to effectively manage the visit team; adhere to and uphold the ABET code of conduct; be organized; and take responsibility for leading the visit team to consensus on the recommended accreditation actions. The success of the accreditation visit rests on how well the Team Chair manages the visit and the visit team.