Module 2: The Accreditation Process
A. Overview Of Accreditation Process
The entire program review process is typically 18 months long.
Step 1: The process begins in January of the first year, when the institution requests accreditation for one or more of its programs.
Step 2: The institution prepares and submits a Self-Study Report(s), which the visit team will review in advance of the site visit.
Step 3: The site visit is usually conducted between September and December of the first year.
Step 4: After the visit, 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 5: 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 6: The edited Draft Statement is sent to the institution, which has 30 days to respond.
Step 7: 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 8: Final accreditation decisions are made at the Summer Commission Meeting in July of the second year.
Step 9: ABET notifies the institution of the final accreditation action in August of the second year.
The steps listed above describe only the actual program review process. The entire accreditation process (Overview of Accreditation Process) involves Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) processes by the program, as well as significant efforts to prepare a self study and collect course and assessment materials.
B. Roles And Responsibilities
ABET is a federation of professional and technical societies. Member societies with curricular responsibilities recruit, select, mentor, and assist in training qualified program evaluators who, along with team chairs, comprise the teams assigned to accreditation visits. ABET member societies also nominate individuals to the four ABET commissions (the Applied & Natural Science Accreditation Commission, the Computing Accreditation Commission, the Engineering Accreditation Commission, and the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission) and appoint individuals to the ABET Board of Delegates.
Institutions requesting an ABET review have significant responsibilities to complete before ABET’s Visit Team arrives on site. Each program completes a Self-Study Report, which serves as the central document the team relies on for the review. In the Self-Study Report, each program details how the ABET Criteria are being met. Read the Accreditation Step-by-Step document for a detailed description of the accreditation process from the institution’s point of view.
The institution hosts the site visit. On campus, institutions arrange for interviews and reviews of display materials, facilities, equipment, and other observations that cannot be included in the Self-Study Report.
After the visit, the institution has seven (7) days to report errors of fact in the visiting team’s preliminary findings. After it receives the Draft Statement, the institution has 30 days to report actions it has taken since the visit to address the team’s findings and improve the program. This is the Due Process Response Period.
Each of the member societies is invited to have representation on one or more of the four ABET commissions, according to the curricular areas that those societies are assigned to by the ABET Board of Delegates. The four commissions are:
- the Applied & Natural Science Accreditation Commission (ANSAC);
- the Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC);
- the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC); and
- the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ETAC).
The accreditation commissions are responsible for administering the ABET accreditation process, based on the Accreditation Policies and Procedures Manual and on the accreditation criteria, both of which are approved by the ABET Board of Delegates. The commissions recommend criteria, assign the team chairs of the visiting teams, and make final accreditation decisions (by vote of the entire membership).
The visit team evaluates one or more programs at an institution against the ABET Criteria and Accreditation Policies and Procedures. The visit team is composed of a team chair and at least one program evaluator for each program being evaluated.
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 the primary contact with the institution. The team chair is responsible for contact with the dean of each program being evaluated. He or she is involved in approving the composition of the visit team. As the leader of the visit team, the team chair assembles the Draft Statement and the Final Statement, and presents the findings to the ABET commission at the Summer Commission Meeting in July.
The responsibilities of the team chair will vary depending on the size of the visit team. In addition, 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.
Program evaluators (PEVs) are selected by their member societies to represent ABET on site visits, where they work with a team of colleagues from other member societies. As an ABET team member, the program evaluator’s role is to provide knowledge on professional practice, professional preparation, and continuous improvement. The program evaluator also provides sound judgment about how the program he or she is evaluating meets ABET’s Accreditation Criteria.
One of the program evaluator’s most important responsibilities is to behave in an ethical and professional manner and to uphold ABET’s Code of Conduct, in Section IV of the ABET Board of Delegates Rules of Procedure. It is particularly important to avoid any real or perceived conflicts of interest with the institutions being evaluated. Program evaluators must disclose any real or perceived conflicts and recuse themselves from discussions or decisions related to any associated issues. If you have any questions about this, contact your team chair or ABET at email@example.com or 410-347-7700.
To avoid being assigned as a PEV for a visit to an institution for which you have a conflict of interest, it is important that you keep your list of conflicts current in your ABET profile. You should update your profile whenever a new conflict of interest develops, but not later than mid-spring of each year.
Special Note: Avoid any real or perceived conflicts of interest with the institutions being evaluated. If you are not sure about a possible perception of a conflict of interest, contact your team chair or ABET.
As a Program Evaluator, you will have responsibilities before, during, and after the site visit.
C. Overview Of Accreditation Criteria
Programs must comply with the Criteria and ABET’s Accreditation Policies and Procedures Manual to achieve accreditation. As a program evaluator, you are responsible for evaluating a program’s compliance with the Criteria.
The 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 of a program to demonstrate clearly that the program meets the Criteria.
Please Note: To evaluate a program, it is critical that you thoroughly understand the Criteria and how to apply them. (Note: In this training, we will only be addressing the General Criteria. Your member society will cover program-specific criteria as needed.)
For more information, please see the Accreditation Policy and Procedure Manual and the Accreditation Criteria.
D. Explanation Of Terms
ABET expert volunteers and staff should use consistent terminology. As a program evaluator, you will need to know and use the following terms (Glossary.)
Program Educational Objectives: Broad statements that describe what graduates are expected to attain within a few years of graduation. Program educational objectives are based on the needs of the program’s constituencies.
Student Outcomes: Statements that describe what students are expected to know and be able to do by the time of graduation. These relate to skills, knowledge, and behaviors that students acquire as they progress through the program.
Assessment: One or more processes that identify, collect, and prepare data to evaluate the attainment of student outcomes. Effective assessment uses relevant direct, indirect, quantitative, and qualitative measures as appropriate to the outcome being measured. Appropriate sampling methods may be used as part of an assessment process.
Evaluation: One or more processes for interpreting the data and evidence accumulated through assessment practices. Evaluation determines the extent to which student outcomes are being attained. Evaluation results in decisions and actions regarding program improvement.
If you are from industry, government, or private practice and would like more information on the academic environment and terminology, you will want to review this Introduction to Academia for Non-Academician.
E. Definition Of Levels Of Compliance
When writing the Exit Statement for the program you will be evaluating, you will need to use a variety of terms and statements to define levels of compliance (Accreditation Policy and Procedures Manual I.E.5.b. and Glossary.)
Findings of Concern: A Concern indicates that a program currently satisfies a criterion, policy, or procedure. However, the potential exists for the situation to change such that the criterion, policy, or procedure may not be satisfied.
Findings of Weakness: A Weakness indicates that a program lacks the strength of compliance with a criterion, policy, or procedure to ensure that the quality of the program will not be compromised. Therefore, remedial action is required to strengthen compliance with the criterion, policy, or procedure prior to the next review.
Findings of Deficiency: A Deficiency indicates a criterion, policy, or procedure is not satisfied. Therefore, the program is not in compliance with the criterion, policy, or procedure.
Statements of Observation: An Observation is a comment or suggestion that does not relate directly to the accreditation action but is offered to assist the institution in its continuing efforts to improve its programs.
Statements of Strength: A Strength is an exceptionally strong, effective practice or condition that stands above the norm, and has a positive effect on the program.
Please Note: You must fully understand what is required to meet the Criteria and the levels of compliance. More will be covered in Module 5: Applying the Criteria.