An explanation of ABET, a national accreditation agency for surveying and engineering.

The definition of accreditation used here is… “to vouch for as conforming to a standard.” With regard to surveying/geomatics and higher education, accreditation consists of third party evaluation of a given program and a statement that the program meets minimum standards. In the United States, many surveying programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology (ABET), a few at the associate degree level, but most at the baccalaureate degree level. Although ABET accredits master’s level programs, there are no graduate level surveying programs accredited by ABET.

ABET is an accrediting agency, recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, which grew out of the former Engineers Council for Professional Development (ECPD). ABET operates through three commissions: the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC), the Technology Accreditation Commission (TAC) and the Related Accreditation Commission (RAC). Recently, ABET and the Computer Science Accreditation Board (CSAB) integrated their accreditation services and established a fourth commission known as the Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC). The declared vision for all commissions is that “ABET will provide world leadership to assure quality and stimulate innovation in engineering, technology and applied science education.” Extensive information on ABET is available on its website at www.abet.org.

ABET accreditation visits are conducted according to two sets of published criteria: general and program specific. The general criteria are common to all programs within a commission while program criteria are often more restrictive but unique to a given discipline. General criteria are developed by the various commissions and approved by the ABET Board of Directors, while the program criteria are developed by professional societies representing the various disciplines. Program criteria are first approved by the respective commission and ultimately by the ABET Board of Directors. Program criteria for surveying/geomatics (and similarly named programs) are developed by the American Congress on Surveying & Mapping (ACSM) in concert with the Geomatics Division of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The actual work and discussions occur within the Curriculum, Accreditation & Registration (CAR) Committee of the ACSM.

Given the diversity of professional surveying endeavors, it is no surprise that surveying accreditation is not adequately served by a single commission. Leading up to the creation of the third commission in 1983, the choices for surveying accreditation within ABET were to seek accreditation as an engineering program (using engineering criteria) or as a technology program (using technology criteria). The problem was that many surveying professionals objected to traditional engineering subjects being required in a degree intended to prepare one for surveying. Many professionals felt that courses such as adjustments, boundary control, subdivision design, geodesy, photogrammetry and computer applications would be more relevant to surveying education than courses in statistics, dynamics, materials, thermodynamics and electrical engineering as required for a typical engineering degree. Many people recognized significant overlaps between surveying and engineering, but the argument prevailed that surveying, as a distinct discipline, deserved separate accreditation.

Some professionals suggested an alternative accreditation for surveying to adopt and use the technology accreditation option. That was not acceptable for various reasons. For example, some surveying programs were already more rigorous than required by general Technology Accreditation Commission (TAC) criteria and many state registration boards were reluctant to accept a four-year technology degree as meeting the requirements for surveying registration. The Related Accreditation Commission (RAC) was approved by the ABET Board of Directors in October 1983 with the first visits—Ferris State in Michigan and Oregon’s Institute of Technology—conducted in the fall of 1984. ABET/RAC accreditation was granted to both programs in the summer of 1985. The intent in writing program criteria for RAC surveying programs was that they were to be as rigorous as engineering criteria but would include material more appropriate to surveying. Seventeen years of RAC experience validates the wisdom of those actions.

But, one could argue it could have been done better. As it happened, the influence of surveying became diluted as the voice of the ACSM was spread among three different ABET commissions. For example, it was the desire of the ACSM CAR committee for surveying to evolve toward the EAC and RAC for accreditation of four-year programs, leaving associate degree programs to be served by the TAC. But, the criteria for EAC and RAC programs are such (for example, requiring a minimum of three faculty members) that several institutions have chosen to seek TAC accreditation for their four-year programs. ABET works to provide accreditation options, but within limits, allows each institution to choose the desired accreditation category. If we in surveying are not satisfied with existing accreditation options or practices, it is up to us, working through the ACSM CAR committee and through the ACSM representative on the ABET Board of Directors, to affect changes.

The surveying programs on page 32 are accredited by ABET. The number in parentheses indicates the year the program was first accredited.

What is the future of surveying/ geomatics program accreditation?

Although the question is not answered directly, several comments are made about future ABET activities.

  • ABET is making a transition to outcomes-based assessment and continuous improvement of accredited programs in all commissions. The EAC leads other commissions in making the transition, but all ABET commissions are committed to the new mode of evaluation.

  • The RAC started out in 1985 with two surveying programs. Currently, there are eight RAC surveying programs, all at the four-year level. But, RAC has grown to include disciplines of industrial hygiene, safety and industrial management, and has accredited 59 programs, 40 of them at the master’s degree level. In October 2000, the Health Physics Society joined the ABET/RAC fold, bringing with them the potential for 20 or more additional programs. These additions could change the minimal presence surveying currently has in the RAC commission by making it eight in 80 or more. Furthermore, representation on the RAC commission is proportional to the number of programs accredited by the commission.

  • Also in October 2000, the ABET Board of Directors announced their intent to establish an Applied Science Accreditation Commission (ASAC) after a comment period of one year. Unless derailed by serious opposition, the name of the RAC will then be changed to the ASAC. The adjective “related” was meaningful 15 years ago and has served well. But, now it is generally conceded, a different name is needed. It will be better for the RAC to be known by what we are (applied science) as opposed to being known by what we are not (engineering).

  • Accreditation of distance education programs looms in the future. The ABET Board is studying the issues and challenges.

  • Recently ABET and CSAB integrated their accreditation services and established the CAC. One name included in the CAC list of possible programs is information science. How does that differ from Geographical Information Science? If or when the GIS academic community begins looking for an accreditation “home,” where will they end up? My guess is ABET will do everything it can to serve that discipline as well.


Sidebar:

Engineering Accreditation Commission:

California State Polytechnic University, Pamona (1994)

California State University, Fresno (1979)

Ferris State University (1991)

University of Maine (1981)

Purdue University (1984)

Related Accreditation Commission:

University of Alaska, Anchorage (1995)

East Tennessee State University (1994)

University of Florida (1986)

Michigan Technological University (1987)

New Mexico State University (1993)

Ohio State University (1988)

Oregon Institute of Technology (1985)

Pennsylvania State University, Wilkes-Barre (1999)

Technology Accreditation Commission:

Four-year programs:

New Jersey Institute of Technology (1994)

State University of New York College of Technology, Alfred (1994)

Two-year programs:

University of Akron (1973)

State University of New York College of Technology, Alfred (1977)

Mohawk Valley Community College (1979)

Paul Smith’s College (1993)

Pennsylvania State University, Wilkes-Barre (1962)

Pennsylvania College of Technology (1996)