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Raising the Bar for Engineering: Why ABET is Necessary but not Sufficient

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Civil Engineering Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1301.1 - 26.1301.9



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Paper Authors


Stephen J. Ressler U.S. Military Academy

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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 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. He continues to serve the engineering profession as a member of the ABET Board of Directors, an active member of several ASCE education and accreditation committees, and ASEE’s Civil Engineering Division.

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Raising the Bar for Engineering: Why ABET is Necessary but not SufficientFor the past two decades ASCE has been engaged in a major strategic initiative to enhance theeducational prerequisites for entry into the practice of civil engineering at the professional level.From a macro perspective, this “Raise the Bar” initiative has been promulgated by:  Formally articulating and publishing the Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge (CE BOK).  Determining through curricular analysis that the educational component of the CE BOK cannot be fully attained within the current four-year baccalaureate degree.  Determining that the educational component of the CE BOK can be fully attained through a baccalaureate degree augmented by a master’s degree (or equivalent).  Advocating for a change to the NCEES Model Law and Rules, to require a master’s degree or equivalent for engineering licensure.  Advocating for changes to state licensure laws, to require a master’s degree or equivalent for engineering licensure.This last endeavor—attempting to influence state licensure laws—is fraught with challenges. Inaddressing these challenges, ASCE’s Raise the Bar proponents are frequently confronted withthe question: “Why can’t ABET take care of this problem?” This question presumes thatenhanced educational standards could be implemented more easily or more effectively throughthe accreditation system than through the licensure system.The principal purpose of this paper is to answer the question: “Why can’t ABET take care of thisproblem?” In addressing this question, the authors will refute the claim that the inadequacy of afour-year baccalaureate degree as academic preparation for professional engineering practice canbe addressed by changes to accreditation policies, procedures, and criteria alone. In a broadersense, this paper will show that ABET accreditation does have a critical supporting role inraising the educational bar for engineering; however, this contribution is necessary but notsufficient to achieve the desired end.More specifically, this paper will: (1) Identify all possible mechanisms by which ABET might address the need for additional education, as articulated in ASCE’s Raise the Bar initiative. (2) Demonstrate why these mechanisms are infeasible. (3) Summarize recent changes to ABET accreditation policies, procedures, and criteria that have supported the “Raise the Bar” initiative. (4) Identify future changes to ABET accreditation policies, procedures, and criteria that could further enable the “Raise the Bar” initiative. (5) Demonstrate that implementing all feasible accreditation-related enablers will not fully address the problem; and that licensure, not accreditation, must be the principal focus for implementing enforceable standards that enhance the educational preparation of future engineering professionals.COORDINATING NOTE: This abstract is submitted at the specific invitation and request ofTom Lenox, the coordinator of the ASCE Liaison Committee’s program for the CE Division ofASEE in 2015. It should be considered for inclusion in the session that Tom Lenox is organizingand moderating.

Ressler, S. J., & Lenox, T. A. (2015, June), Raising the Bar for Engineering: Why ABET is Necessary but not Sufficient Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24638

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