In addition to the focus on specific details of the proposed changes to student outcomes and curriculum in Criteria 3 and 5, forum participants discussed broader aspects of the ABET criteria. The two general topics that received the most attention were the presentation of definitions of key terms in the new criteria and the overall requirements for an engineering degree.
One proposed straightforward change to the criteria that many participants praised was the presentation of the definitions of key terms (program educational objectives, student outcomes, assessment, and evaluation) in one place—in a section immediately following the background section and before the descriptions of the general criteria and program criteria—rather than throughout the document. Patricia Daniels (University of Washington) cited this as an improvement in the revised document, and her praise was echoed by Phillip Borrowman (Hanson Professional Services), who noted that providing the definitions up front adds an explicitness to the criteria that is valuable to programs and program evaluators.
However, Borrowman added, there is some confusion caused by the fact that the document has definitions in two places—definitions of basic terms in Section 1 and definitions related to student outcomes in what appears to be a “preamble” to Criterion 3. The existence of two separate groups of definitions might cause readers to wonder whether there is a greater importance of one location over the other, and he suggested combining all the definitions in Section 1.
He also identified some ambiguity in some of the criteria, which might create difficulties both for people running engineering programs and for those evaluating them. Borrowman highlighted the use of the term “multidisciplinary” as an example, suggesting that “the word multidisciplinary should be added to criterion 3.7, ahead of the word ‘teams,’” so that the revised criterion would read: “An ability to function effectively on multidisciplinary teams that establish goals, plan tasks, meet deadlines, and analyze risk and uncertainty.” In his experience, Borrowman noted, single disciplinary teams rarely exist in industry. Again, he suggested, some of the ambiguity related to this word could be eliminated by expanding and clarifying the definitions of terms in Section 1.
Discussion of the overall requirements for an engineering degree focused on how many hours or years it should take to earn a degree.
David Whitman (University of Wyoming), past president of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, raised the question of whether ABET should define a minimum number of semester credit hours for an accredited bachelor’s degree in engineering. Currently one academic year is defined as the lesser of 32 semester
credits or one‐fourth of the total credits required for graduation, and both the existing and proposed Criterion 5 specify a minimum of 1 academic year of a combination of college‐level mathematics and basic sciences and 1½ academic years of engineering topics. He suggested that it might make sense to request that ABET’s Engineering Accreditation Commission reexamine the concept of requiring a specific minimum, by setting either an absolute minimum requirement of total credit hours for degree completion or an absolute minimum number of credit hours for engineering‐related courses. Having this specific requirement set out by ABET, which is highly respected by employers, administrators, and legislators, might help stop the trend toward a decreasing number of credit hours, particularly a decreasing number of engineering‐related credit hours.
Donna Riley (Virginia Tech) noted that regardless of the length of time required to complete an engineering degree, it will always be necessary to decide on priorities in the curriculum.