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Is it true if your engineering degreeing isn't ABET accredited then it is worthless.

VTBoyVTBoy Posts: 580Registered User Member
edited July 2010 in Engineering Majors
We have an Optical Engineering program at my school that isn't ABET acredited. Hate to think all of those people in the program are getting a garbage degree.
Post edited by VTBoy on
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Replies to: Is it true if your engineering degreeing isn't ABET accredited then it is worthless.

  • CitanCitan Posts: 2,287Registered User Senior Member
    optical engineering is a pretty niche discipline so it's not surprising that the program isn't ABET accredited....I don't think it's a problem then :rolleyes:
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    VTboy, I'll put it to you this way. Both Berkeley and Stanford offer unaccredited Materials Science programs. Does that mean that these programs are "garbage"? Berkeley also offers an unaccredited Bioengineering program. Is that garbage? Even MIT's bioengineering program is still unaccredited (at least, right now). Does that mean that it is garbage?

    Maybe the most striking example is Berkeley's programs in computer science. You can get a BA degree in Computer Science, which is unaccredited, through the College of Letters and Science.. Or you can get a BS degree in Computer Science as part of the EECS program which is run through the College of Engineering. The BS program is accredited. The graduates of the BA program actually MAKE MORE than the graduates of the BS program. The average starting salary of the unaccredited BA CS grads in 2005 was 69k, whereas the average salary of the BS EECS grads in 2005 was about 62.4k.


    http://career.berkeley.edu/Major/CompSci.stm
    http://career.berkeley.edu/Major/EECS.stm

    Now, part of the reason for the difference is that EECS has some people who specialize in EE, and EE tends to pay less than CS does in Silicon Valley (where most Berkeley CS grads go). But perhaps a more important reason is that the BA CS program is highly selective such that you can't even get into the major unless you did well in your lower-division Berkeley coursework, whereas staying alive in EECS requires that you just pass your coursework. Hence, the BA CS students tend to be better students than the BS EECS students.

    But still, it begs the question of if an accredited degree really is "garbage", then why are employers actually paying MORE money to Berkeley grads who have an unaccredited garbage degree as opposed to people who have an accredited degree. Are these employers being stupid?
  • VTBoyVTBoy Posts: 580Registered User Member
    Your right, some reason I was thinking ABET accrediation was just as important as regional accrediation for engineering. So now I know it isn't.
  • CorbettCorbett Posts: 1,599Registered User Senior Member
    Seems like questions about ABET accreditation come up pretty regularly here. Maybe there should be a thread about this issue permanently posted at the beginning of the forum.

    Every state engineering board in the US prefers or requires ABET degrees. So ABET accreditation is important in engineering fields that are subject to state licensing laws (this generally means traditional disciplines like civil, mechanical, electrical, and chemical). In practice, all reputable degree programs in such fields get ABET accreditation, because they know that at least some of their graduates will need it for professional licensure.

    But other engineering disciplines are not subject to state licensing laws. For example, no state licenses biomedical engineers, optical engineers, materials scientists, or computer scientists. Since state boards don't regulate these fields, an ABET degree has no legal advantage over a non-ABET degree. In practice, many schools don't bother with ABET accreditation in unregulated disciplines.

    In civil engineering, a non-ABET degree would definitely be regarded with suspicion. But in optical engineering, a non-ABET degree would probably not be an issue at all.
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    Every state engineering board in the US prefers or requires ABET degrees. So ABET accreditation is important in engineering fields that are subject to state licensing laws (this generally means traditional disciplines like civil, mechanical, electrical, and chemical). In practice, all reputable degree programs in such fields get ABET accreditation, because they know that at least some of their graduates will need it for professional licensure.

    Personally, I think that the accreditation process is highly questionable, particularly when it comes to graduate programs (as few graduate engineering programs are accredited), or even beyond, after you've made a name for yourself professionally.

    For example, take the Berkeley Civil Engienering program, which is the #1 rated Civil Engineering graduate program in the country. Yet even this program has a number of profs who are not accredited engineers. For example, consider Professor Brady Williamson. His specialty is the construction of structures for fire safety and fire protection. Yet he himself does not have an 'accredited' degree. His degrees (A.B. and PhD) are both in Physics from Harvard. So in those states that require an ABET-accredited degree for state licensure, Professor Williamson would not be eligible, even though he is arguably one of the world experts in construction fire safety.

    http://www.ce.berkeley.edu/faculty/faculty_bio.php?name=Williamson

    Any engineering licensing requirement that would exclude somebody like Professor Williamson is a stupid requirement.
  • dallas808dallas808 Posts: 768Registered User Member
    A person without an accredited degree can still become a professional engineer. For instance, in Texas, the non-accredited degree holders will need 4 additional years of professional experience (a total of 8 years) to be eligible for licensure.
    Source: http://www.tbpe.state.tx.us/lic.htm

    Personally, I don't see unaccredited degree as "garbage". But, the PE licensure is highly desirable for career advancement in certain fields/industries.
  • CorbettCorbett Posts: 1,599Registered User Senior Member
    Note that "accreditation" and "licensure" are two separate issues. Degree programs are accredited by ABET, which is a consortium of engineering societies (ASCE, ASME, IEEE, AIChE, etc). Individuals are licensed by state engineering boards, which may or may not require ABET degrees.
    Personally, I think that the accreditation process is highly questionable, particularly when it comes to graduate programs (as few graduate engineering programs are accredited)
    ABET historically has not accredited graduate degree programs (except at schools that don't offer undergraduate degrees). So nobody expects graduate degrees in engineering to be ABET-accredited. This may change in the future, if the MS (rather than the BS) becomes accepted as the basic entry-level degree for engineers.
    Any engineering licensing requirement that would exclude somebody like Professor Williamson is a stupid requirement.
    I agree that state engineering boards should have some flexibility to accomodate qualified individuals with science degrees. But many (probably most) states already do. For example, the California Board allows anyone with 6 years of suitable professional experience to qualify for the PE exam. If you have the experience, then no college degree of any kind, or even a high school diploma, is needed. The fastest way to qualify is with an ABET degree, but you can still get licensed without one.

    According to the California Board's online database, the professor in question does hold a license as a Fire Protection PE in California.
  • aibarraibarr Posts: 4,248Registered User Senior Member
    Corbett wrote:
    According to the California Board's online database, the professor in question does hold a license as a Fire Protection PE in California.

    Oh, burned.
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    I agree that state engineering boards should have some flexibility to accomodate qualified individuals with science degrees. But many (probably most) states already do. For example, the California Board allows anyone with 6 years of suitable professional experience to qualify for the PE exam. If you have the experience, then no college degree of any kind, or even a high school diploma, is needed. The fastest way to qualify is with an ABET degree, but you can still get licensed without one.

    According to the California Board's online database, the professor in question does hold a license as a Fire Protection PE in California.

    I am well aware that some states, notably California, have some flexibility. But some states do not. For example, that prof in question would not be able to license himself as a Professional Engineer in certain states. It would be a rather ridiculous situation where if he wanted to complete a fire-protection project in those particular states, he would actually have to have his project signed off by somebody who actually was a PE in that state, despite the fact that he is a well-regarded authority in the field.
    Oh, burned.

    Nice try to minimize what I think is an important weakness in the certification process. The truth is, some states really do have completely reactionary licensing policies, and no rhetorical flourish is going to wash that fact away.
  • aibarraibarr Posts: 4,248Registered User Senior Member
    Oh, c'mon, sakky. I'm an engineer, I can't resist a good pun (fire protection PE? burned?). You've been on the business side of things far too long if you didn't catch that one! ;)

    All punnage aside, ABET's incredibly political, and the accreditation process is filled with politics and laden down with bureaucracy. I definitely agree with your point of view on this one.

    But it was still a fantastically good pun.
  • CorbettCorbett Posts: 1,599Registered User Senior Member
    that prof in question would not be able to license himself as a Professional Engineer in certain states.
    You are correct. I would support changes in such state laws. Full disclosure: I am a PE with degrees in science, rather than engineering, so I am in a similar position myself.

    I would point out, though, that state licensing boards do not have a monopoly on bureaucratic short-sightedness. There also are engineering departments that require ABET degrees for graduate admission. So the prof in question could be rejected for the MS in some circumstances, not just the PE. I would support changes there as well.
    Nice try to minimize what I think is an important weakness in the certification process. The truth is, some states really do have completely reactionary licensing policies, and no rhetorical flourish is going to wash that fact away.
    The issue does exist, but you are exaggerating its significance. Even in states where ABET degrees are not required in theory, few people become PEs without one in practice. It's comparable to the situation with lawyers: in some states (again, including California), you can qualify for the bar exam without a law degree, but the number of people that actually become attorneys by that route is miniscule.

    Furthermore, we live in an era of increasing educational and professional specialization, which means that fewer and fewer people even try. Note that the professor used as an example above earned his bachelor's degree in 1956 -- half a century ago. I imagine that there was more crossover between physics and engineering in the 1950s than there is now. And I'll bet that the prof wouldn't recommend the physics route to a prospective fire protection engineer today.
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    Oh, c'mon, sakky. I'm an engineer, I can't resist a good pun (fire protection PE? burned?). You've been on the business side of things far too long if you didn't catch that one!

    Yes, it was a good pun. But I think it minimizes what is a rather serious subject. It's rather sad that certain people who are well-regarded authorities in the field are not allowed to become PE's just become of some silly regulation.
    I would point out, though, that state licensing boards do not have a monopoly on bureaucratic short-sightedness.

    I actually strongly suspect that there is more to it than bureaucratic short-sightedness. I think it's more of a case of regulatory capture - that the licensing boards WANT to exclude anybody without an ABET degree, no matter how competent, because doing so reduces the number of potential PE's out there, thereby enhancing the value of the ones who do attain this status. It's classic monopolistic rent-seeking behavior.
    Furthermore, we live in an era of increasing educational and professional specialization, which means that fewer and fewer people even try. Note that the professor used as an example above earned his bachelor's degree in 1956 -- half a century ago. I imagine that there was more crossover between physics and engineering in the 1950s than there is now. And I'll bet that the prof wouldn't recommend the physics route to a prospective fire protection engineer today.

    I agree, but I would also say that we live in a world where it is becoming more and more difficult to predict your career path. The average American will change careers several times in his/her lifestime. Some of the best software developers I know never studied anything related to computers in college, instead majoring in things like Economics or English. Even the professional graduate schools like law or medicine don't restrict what you can major in as an undergrad - in theory, you can major in anything and still go to law or medical school. These are examples of 'dynamic typing' - in which you are not (and should not be) defined by what you majored in as an undergrad. Sadly, some state engineering licensing boards refuse to implement dynamic typing when it comes to the PE.
  • CorbettCorbett Posts: 1,599Registered User Senior Member
    I actually strongly suspect that there is more to it than bureaucratic short-sightedness. I think it's more of a case of regulatory capture - that the licensing boards WANT to exclude anybody without an ABET degree, no matter how competent, because doing so reduces the number of potential PE's out there, thereby enhancing the value of the ones who do attain this status. It's classic monopolistic rent-seeking behavior.
    No, it's not that simple.

    It’s certainly true that the decisions of state licensing boards may be based on political, as well as technical, considerations. But such considerations are driven by the interests of state politicians, not by state PEs.

    For example, the California Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors is composed of 13 members: the majority are non-technical “public members”, a minority are licensed engineers or surveyors, and all of them are political appointees. So their strings are pulled by the governor (who appoints 11 members) or by the state legislature (for the other two), not by the state PE community. In general, state officials have no vested interest in limiting PE numbers.

    Furthermore, the ABET degree requirement is trivial as a barrier for potential PEs. If it were relaxed nationwide, there would be a handful of new PEs in certain states, but the net increase would be insignificant. Qualified non-ABET engineers do exist, but the numbers are small.

    The true limiting factor is clearly the exam requirement. Literally tens of thousands of engineers fail licensing exams every year -- and tens of thousands of others are discouraged from even applying. The ABET requirement only keeps out a trickle of potential PEs in certain states; the exam requirement keeps out a flood of potential PEs everywhere.

    I imagine that the real reason for the ABET degree requirement in some states is simply historical: at the time that the state laws were passed, it seemed reasonable to require a professional degree for a professional license, as is the norm in many other fields. Unfortunately, it is difficult to amend state laws -- and in most cases, the degree requirement probably is state law, not simply a board policy -- especially when the number of affected people is relatively small. There probably aren't enough frustrated non-ABET engineers in (for example) Kentucky to hire a lobbyist for even a week.
  • CorbettCorbett Posts: 1,599Registered User Senior Member
    Even the professional graduate schools like law or medicine don't restrict what you can major in as an undergrad - in theory, you can major in anything and still go to law or medical school. These are examples of 'dynamic typing' - in which you are not (and should not be) defined by what you majored in as an undergrad. Sadly, some state engineering licensing boards refuse to implement dynamic typing when it comes to the PE.
    I agree. It seems odd that an English major can go to graduate school and become a licensed surgeon, a licensed attorney, or even a licensed architect -- but cannot become (in some states) a licensed engineer, even with an MS degree in engineering.

    In the long run, this will probably change. ASCE is seriously considering a new model for licensure that emphasizes the MS, rather than the BS, as the first professional degree. The new model would explicitly allow people with bachelor's degrees in science (and even humanities) to qualify as PEs, provided that they also obtained a suitable MS degree. This would obviously resemble the system used for legal or medical education.
  • COlsen573COlsen573 Posts: 881Registered User Member
    dude CMU's computer science program isnt ABET accredited, yeah their compsci program sucks.
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