Dear ABET Experts:
A little over a year ago, our 2015-16 President, Larry Jones, and I reached out to you to address some of the issues appearing in the media relating to accreditation systems and organizations in the United States. We spoke about criticisms from federal policymakers, presidential candidates and a range of public commentators, as they questioned the value of accreditation. However, they routinely failed to offer a more accurate depiction of how specialized accreditors, such as ABET, differ from regional ones. Capitol Hill and media attention has been squarely focused on the high level of student loan debt, poor graduation rates and exaggerated claims by a few institutions on employment opportunities following graduation.
With that in mind, we have been committed to educating policymakers, opinion formers and the business community on the difference between regional and specialized accreditation and on the value we offer to students, families, employers and society. Over the last year, we have been actively sharing our story with journalists, think tanks and congressional staffers from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.
For the most part, progress has been slow, but we are encouraged by the early success we’ve seen. Last October, ABET was mentioned by name as a third-party standard setter in a report released by the DC-based think tank, the Center for American Progress. The report went on to describe our accreditation in a very accurate and positive light:
“Unlike most institutional accreditors, ABET uses outcome measures to ensure that students, employers, funding sources, and society can be confident that programs it accredits meet the quality standards to produce students who are prepared to enter a global workforce.”
In times when the whole accreditation sector is under scrutiny, it is good to see that our message gets across — even to those highly critical of accreditation. I encourage you to read the full report, A Quality Alternative: A New Vision for Higher Education Accreditation.
It was also promising to see members of ABET’s Industry Advisory Council (IAC) from Caterpillar and IBM speaking on our behalf in an op-ed published in Crain’s Chicago Business, last December. In the article, Charles Menke, machine development manager at Caterpillar and ABET IAC Chair, and Edward Calusinski, distinguished engineer at IBM, clarify the distinction between regional and specialized accreditation and urge Congress to take a closer look at the value that specialized accreditors like ABET bring to major industry employers. If you have not done so, I urge you to read the op-ed, Why This Education Issue Matters to Caterpillar and IBM.
But the purpose of my letter today is to share some of the recent successes we had not only on the advocacy front, but also on our accreditation expansion, global outreach, program evaluator recruitment and event attendance.
As an organization, ABET has had one of its strongest years ever: we’ve expanded our presence to 30 countries, and we now accredit 3,709 programs at 752 institutions worldwide. Austria is the latest addition and joins Portugal and Spain as our third European nation. Growing to over 570 programs outside the U.S., which now account for 15 percent of all ABET-accredited programs, is no small feat when you consider that our international accreditation efforts started less than a decade ago. We couldn’t have done it without the incredible work and dedication of our Experts, individuals like you, who are committed to making a difference in the education students receive at institutions around the world.
Also, as a result of our robust growth, we’ve trained a record number of new program evaluators. Last spring alone, 160 program evaluator candidates successfully completed both the web-based and face-to-face training at our global headquarters in Baltimore. I’m happy to say that in addition to our growing global accreditation activities, we’re also experiencing an increase in the numbers of program evaluators who live and work outside the U.S. We’ve had a five-fold increase in the number of international program evaluators going on visits in the last five years alone — a trend that will certainly continue as we see more interest from programs, and future evaluators, outside the U.S.
Interest in ABET continues to grow rapidly, and not just geographically, but also in the breadth of academic disciplines we accredit. Last year we accredited our first chemistry program under the Applied Science Accreditation Commission criteria, and this cycle we’re reviewing several similar programs. With so much interest in bringing additional applied science as well as natural science programs under the ABET umbrella, our Board of Delegates approved on first reading an amendment to the by-laws to change the name of the Applied Science Accreditation Commission (ASAC) to the Applied and Natural Science Accreditation Commission (ANSAC). If approved by the Board of Directors and Board of Delegates on second reading at the March 2017 meetings, the name change will go into effect at that time. We also recently released an issue brief on the value that ABET accreditation brings to programs in the natural sciences. Read the full brief, ABET Accreditation: into Natural Science.
In addition to our accreditation services, we’re also engaging faculty and administrators with respect to the crucial role they play preparing the global technology professionals of tomorrow. Last year’s Symposium touched on the impact these professionals will have in building a better world, drawing a record 800 participants. One highlight was the Great Minds, Greater Impact plenary discussion that featured Marc Edwards, Virginia Tech, who brought international attention to the Flint Water Crisis in 2015; Arvind Thiruvengadam, West Virginia University, who led a team of students that discovered irregularities in Volkswagen’s “Clean Diesel Technology”; NPR’s Joe Palca; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, Steve Cramer.
This year, we’re bringing our flagship event to our hometown of Baltimore. If you have been to one of our Symposia, you know that it is an event not to be missed and if you have not, it is the perfect opportunity to learn about all things ABET and meet like-minded individuals who are passionate about technology and education. To encourage as many of our Experts as possible to join us, we’re offering a discounted rate of $895 to all active program evaluators and team chairs. I hope you’ll join us in Baltimore on April 20 and 21, 2017.
I also wanted to bring your attention to two new projects that we are piloting, including the introduction of the ABET online store. There is a deep sense of pride that comes with bringing confidence through ABET accreditation, so we wanted to give our Experts the chance to proudly display that confidence. During our initial offering last fall, 40 of our Experts got branded hats, backpacks, polo shirts and jackets, and we’re looking to reopen the store this spring. Look for details in the next edition of the Catalyst.
The second project is our #ABETconfident Student Video Contest. When you get to the core of the work that we do, it’s about ensuring students enter the global workforce with confidence in their education. But ironically, not many students know a lot about what ABET accreditation is, and even less about what it means for their careers. That’s why we want faculty to talk to their students about ABET, what accreditation means, what it takes for a program to become accredited and the efforts taken to constantly improve their education experience. If your students are #ABETconfident, we invite them to enter a video in the contest. The students who produce the video that best encapsulates the spirit of confidence in STEM education will be invited to speak on a panel at the 2017 ABET Symposium.
Lastly, I would like to ask for your help spreading the word about our new ABET Innovation Award. We launched the initiative this year to honor individuals or teams that are breaking new ground by developing and implementing innovation into their ABET-accredited programs. The winner of our inaugural Innovation Award was Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Robotics Engineering, the first ABET-accredited undergraduate Robotics Engineering program in the U.S. The program incorporates an innovative, project-based curriculum that integrates computer science, engineering and entrepreneurship. It is producing large numbers of successful graduates, while serving as a model for Robotics Engineering programs at other institutions. Representatives of WPI were honored at our Awards Gala in October, together with four new ABET Fellows and three Claire Felbinger Award for Diversity winners. M. Dayne Aldridge received our organization’s highest honor, the Linton E. Grinter Distinguished Service Award. Watch the highlights from our 2016 ABET Awards Gala.
As you see, we had a remarkable year in 2016, and I look forward to even greater success in 2017. I also want to hear from you — please share your thoughts on what we are doing right and where you see opportunities for improvement. For this reason, we’ll be sending you a link to a survey in the next few weeks. I hope you will take the time to share your thoughts and insights with us to make ABET an even better organization.
Once again, please accept my deepest gratitude and appreciation for your commitment to our organization. It is my hope that we can continue our incredibly successful partnership in the years to come.
Michael K. J. Milligan, PhD, PE, CAE
Executive Director, CEO