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The ASCE BOK, ABET Accreditation Criteria, and NCEES FE Exam - Are They Appropriately Aligned?

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Influencing the Next (Third!) Edition of the Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge for the 21st Century

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Kenneth J. Fridley University of Alabama

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Kenneth J. Fridley is the Senior Associate Dean for Administration at the University of Alabama. Prior to his current appointment, Fridley served as Head of the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at the University of Alabama for 12 years. Dr. Fridley has been recognized as a dedicated educator throughout his career and has received several awards for his teaching efforts, including the ExCEEd (Excellence in Civil Engineering Education) Leadership Award in 2010. At the University of Alabama, Fridley has led efforts to establish several new programs including new undergraduate degree programs in construction engineering, architectural engineering and environmental engineering, a departmental Scholars program allowing highly qualified students an accelerated program to earn their MSCE in addition to their BS degree, the interdisciplinary "Cube" promoting innovation in engineering, and the cross-disciplinary MSCE/MBA and MSCE/JD dual-degree programs. Fridley has advised 32 masters and doctoral students to completion. His former students have moved into leadership positions in industry, public service, and academia.

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W. Edward Back University of Alabama

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Professor and Head, Dept. of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering
Director, Center for Sustainable Infrastructure
The University of Alabama

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Derek G. Williamson University of Alabama

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Dr. Williamson obtained his undergraduate degree in 1990 in Engineering and Public Policy from Washington University in St.Louis. He received his MS (1993) and Ph.D. (1998) degrees in environmental engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Williamson joined the faculty of the the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering at The University of Alabama in 1999. He has enjoyed 15 years of a dynamic profession of teaching, research, and service. he now serves as the Director of Undergraduate Programs for his Department.

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Professional licensure is widely recognized as being critically important to the civil engineering profession. This is exemplified by the Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge1 (BOK) being defined as the “knowledge, skills, and attitudes required for entry into the practice of civil engineering at the professional level,” which equates to the ability to attain professional licensure. The second/current edition of the BOK presents 24 foundational, technical and professional practice outcomes, including recommendations for fulfilling the outcomes through formal education, both at the baccalaureate and post-baccalaureate levels, and mentored pre-licensure experience. The first step for future civil engineers to fulfill the BOK is to achieve the outcomes related to the baccalaureate level. And the first step towards professional licensure is, in additional to earning an ABET-accredited engineering degree, to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. However, while acknowledging that pre-licensure education and experience are central themes of the BOK, passing the FE exam as an initial step towards licensure is not explicitly included in the BOK or any of its 24 outcomes.

ABET accreditation2 is the primary mechanism to assure engineering programs and their graduates meet minimum academic standards and expectations. Considering curricular content and learning outcomes, the relevant ABET accreditation criteria are the General Criterion 3 Student Outcomes, General Criterion 5 Curriculum, and Program Criteria. The General Criteria are applicable to all engineering disciplines, whereas the Program Criteria are specific to each discipline. One long-standing and relatively distinctive aspect of the ABET Civil Engineering Program Criteria (CEPC) is the explicit requirement that civil engineering curricula prepare graduates to “explain the importance of professional licensure.” (The Construction Engineering Program Criteria is the only other program criteria to include professional licensure within the curriculum requirements.) While the ABET General Criterion 3 Student Outcome (f) requires graduates to have “an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility”, explicitly addressing or including licensure is not required as part of any student learning or curriculum requirement of the General Criteria.

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying3 (NCEES) reported the pass rate for first-time test takers of the civil engineering FE exam was 70% for January through May 2015. This was the second lowest pass rate of the seven different FE exams. The civil engineering FE exam was taken by 4874 of 12,835 first-time test takers, the most of the seven exams. The mechanical engineering FE exam had second most number of takers (3547) and highest pass rate (82%).

Does the BOK adequately emphasize the knowledge and skills required to be successful when taking the FE exam? Does current ABET accreditation criteria adequately address student preparation for the FE exam? If the BOK and/or ABET accreditation criteria are not aligned with the content of the FE exam, do they need to be changed or does NCEES need to modify the content of the FE exam? The purpose of this paper is to answer these questions by examining and relating content of the FE with provisions and outcomes in the current edition of the BOK, specifically the BOK outcomes associated with formal education at the baccalaureate level, and ABET accreditation criteria. NCEES data related to pass rates on the FE, specifically the pass rates on the various subject areas, will be used to support recommendations for consideration in the next revisions of the BOK, accreditation criteria, and/or FE exam.

COORDINATING NOTE: This abstract is submitted at the specific invitation and request of Tom Lenox, the coordinator of the ASCE Liaison Committee’s session(s) for the CE Division of ASEE in 2016. It should be considered for inclusion in the session “Influencing the Next (Third!) Edition of the Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge for the 21st Century” that Tom Lenox is organizing and moderating.

1 Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge for the 21st Century: Preparing the Civil Engineer for the Future, Second Edition. American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Reston, VA, 2008.

2 Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs, 2015-2016 ( accreditation-criteria/criteria-for-accrediting-engineering-programs-2015-2016/). ABET, 2015.

3 FE Exam ( National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), Seneca, SC, 2015.

Fridley, K. J., & Back, W. E., & Williamson, D. G. (2016, June), The ASCE BOK, ABET Accreditation Criteria, and NCEES FE Exam - Are They Appropriately Aligned? Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26089

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