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Accreditation Issues of Strategic Importance to the Civil Engineering Profession

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Raise the Bar – Visions for the Future, Bodies of Knowledge, and Accreditation Vicissitudes.

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.130.1 - 24.130.26



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Paper Authors


Stephen J. Ressler PE Engineering Encounters

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Stephen Ressler, P.E. Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus from the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point and currently serves as President of the Board of Directors for Engineering Encounters, a non-profit organization founded to promote K-12 engineering outreach. He earned a B.S. degree from USMA in 1979, a Master of Science in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University in 1989, and a Ph.D. from Lehigh in 1991. As an active duty Army officer, he served in a variety of military engineering assignments around the world. He served as a member of the USMA faculty for 21 years, including six years as Professor and Head of the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering. He retired as a Brigadier General in 2013. He is a registered Professional Engineer in Virginia and a Distinguished Member of ASCE.

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Thomas A. Lenox , Dist.M.ASCE, F.ASEE American Society of Civil Engineers

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Thomas A. Lenox, Ph.D., Dist.M.ASCE is Executive Vice President (Emeritus) of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Military Academy (USMA), Master of Science degree in Theoretical & Applied Mechanics from Cornell University, Master of Business Administration degree in Finance from Long Island University, and a Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University. Dr. Lenox served for over 28 years as a commissioned officer in the U.S Army Field Artillery in a variety of leadership positions in the U.S., Europe, and East Asia. He retired at the rank of Colonel. During his military career, Dr. Lenox also spent 15 years on the engineering faculty of USMA – including five years as the Director of the Civil Engineering Division. Upon his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1998, he joined the staff of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). In his position as educational staff leader of ASCE, he managed several new educational initiatives – collectively labeled as Project ExCEEd (Excellence in Civil Engineering Education). As ASCE’s Executive Vice President, Dr. Lenox led several educational and professional career-development projects for the civil engineering profession – with the overall objective of properly preparing individuals for their futures as civil engineers. An example is his staff leadership of ASCE’s initiative to “Raise the Bar” for entry into professional engineering practice. Dr. Lenox’s recent awards include ASCE’s ExCEEd Leadership Award, ASEE’s George K. Wadlin Award, ASCE’s William H. Wisely American Civil Engineer Award, and the CE News’ “2010 Power List – 15 People Advancing the Civil Engineering Profession.” In 2013, he was selected as a Distinguished Member of ASCE. In January 2014, Dr. Lenox retired from his staff position with ASCE after over 15 years of service. He will continue to serve the engineering profession as an active member of several ASCE national education/accreditation committees and ASEE’s Civil Engineering Division.

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Engaging with ABET Regarding Policy Issues of Strategic Importance to the Civil Engineering ProfessionFor nearly two decades, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has been preparing toaddress the unprecedented engineering challenges of the 21st century by advocating higheracademic prerequisites for entry into the practice of civil engineering at the professional level.This “Raise the Bar” initiative is formally articulated in ASCE Policy Statement 465.ASCE’s ability to implement the “Raise the Bar” initiative has been (and will continue to be)substantially influenced by ABET accreditation. Historically, ABET accreditation criteria,policies, and procedures have provided the “gold standard” for ensuring the quality ofengineering programs in the U.S. As a result, the standards for professional engineeringlicensure throughout the U.S. incorporate provisions that simply presume the quality of anABET-accredited engineering degree—with no further scrutiny of university curricula orindividual engineers’ transcripts. Given this strong linkage to professional licensure,appropriately crafted ABET accreditation criteria, policies, and procedures can serve as powerfultools in support of ASCE’s efforts to raise the educational bar for engineers. Conversely,accreditation criteria, policies, or procedures that do not support an adequate level of educationalattainment can seriously hinder the initiative. Historically, ASCE has had a strongorganizational structure and processes for monitoring and influencing the ABET criteria;however, the society has not been adequately organized for systematically scrutinizing andinfluencing ABET policies and procedures. Given the strong impact of ABET policies andprocedures on the level of educational attainment in accredited engineering programs, thisshortcoming in ASCE’s committee organization has proved to be a substantial hindrance to theimplementation of Policy Statement 465.In early 2010, in recognition of this shortcoming, ASCE formed an accreditation task committeefor the purpose of strategic-level interaction with ABET. The principal objective of thiscommittee was to engage with the senior governing bodies of ABET to influence thedevelopment and maintenance of policies, procedures, and criteria conducive to ASCE’s ongoing“Raise the Bar” initiative. The task committee served until the fall of 2012, when its functions—now recognized as indispensable—were incorporated in into the newly created ASCECommittee on Accreditation—a product of the society’s committee restructuring initiative.The purpose of this paper is to describe the organization, processes, and accomplishments ofASCE’s accreditation task committee and to assess its effectiveness in fulfilling its charge.This paper begins with an overview of the ABET governance structure and principal governingdocuments. It then describes the composition of the task committee and its processes forinteracting with the senior governing bodies of ABET, as well as the various constituenciescomprising ASCE’s accreditation community.The author then outlines five of the most critical issues on which the accreditation taskcommittee has been working for the past three years: (1) ABET Governance – In 2009, ABET proposed a series of modifications to the ABET Policies and Procedures Manual, which had the effect of shifting policy-making authority from the ABET Board of Directors (which is appropriately representative of the ABET Member Societies) to non-representative governing bodies. (2) The Program Naming Loophole - Current ABET policy allows a program to avoid the oversight of an ABET Member Society and to avoid compliance with ABET Program Criteria simply by choosing a program name that is not associated with any current published Program Criteria. (For example, a program called “Infrastructure Engineering” would not be required to comply with the current ABET Civil Engineering Program Criteria.) (3) Structural Engineering Program Criteria – The structural engineering community (both within and outside of ASCE) has been working to establish ABET Program Criteria for Structural Engineering. While this should be a straightforward action, prohibitive accreditation policies are hindering its implementation. (4) Definition of a Year – For the purpose of assessing curricular content, ABET currently defines one year of study as 32 semester hours (or equivalent) or one-fourth of the total credit hours required for graduation, whichever is less. This provision effectively rewards programs that require fewer overall credit hours and penalizes programs that require more. (5) Attainment of outcomes – A recent change to the ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission’s Criterion 3 seems to suggest that programs are not required to demonstrate that their students achieve the Student Outcomes specified in that criterion.For each of these issues, the author provides: • a discussion of how the issue relates to the implementation of ASCE’s “Raise the Bar” initiative; • a summary of the actions taken by the accreditation task committee to address the issue; • an assessment of the effectiveness of these actions; and • recommended next steps, for consideration by the newly created ASCE Committee on Accreditation.The paper concludes with a holistic evaluation of ASCE’s strategic-level interactions withABET, to include a discussion of the challenges associated with fundamental differences in thegoals and priorities of these two organizations. COORDINATING NOTE: This abstract is submitted at the specific invitation and request of Tom Lenox, the coordinator of the ASCE Liaison Committee’s program for the CE Division of ASEE in 2014. It should be considered for inclusion in the session that Tom Lenox is organizing and moderating.

Ressler, S. J., & Lenox, T. A. (2014, June), Accreditation Issues of Strategic Importance to the Civil Engineering Profession Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20021

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