ABET and Accreditation

Learn more about ABET

ABET is the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. ABET is the recognized accreditor for college and university programs in the disciplines of engineering, computing, engineering technology, and applied science degrees at the associates, bachelors, and masters degree levels. It is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

What is the role of SPIE in ABET? SPIE became a member of ABET in 2010 and is one of the 35 professional societies that comprise ABET. We work with industry, government, and academia to ensure that the academic programs of colleges and universities related to optical and photonics disciplines, are kept current, relevant and prepare graduates for entry into practice in the field.

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What is accreditation? Accreditation is the voluntary, peer review process utilized by higher education institutions and industry practitioners to evaluate academic degree programs. It provides assurance that a program or institution meets established quality standards. The accreditation process is also used by universities, colleges and specific degree programs to clarify instructional goals and objectives, enhance program content and improve program delivery.

Institutional and program accreditation status is an important guarantee of quality to prospective:

  • students and faculty
  • employers
  • governing boards
  • government agencies
  • funding sources

Accreditation is critical to the continued success and growth of our optics and photonics community. It provides assurance that the professionals that serve us have a solid educational foundation and are capable of leading the way in innovation, emerging technologies, and in anticipating the welfare and safety needs of the public.

What is the accreditation process? Every six years, all programs wishing to retain ABET accreditation must complete a self-study that details how the program is meeting ABET's criteria for accreditation. This document, usually several hundred pages long, provides evidence of the programs objectives and outcomes (what students should be able to do when and after they graduate) and the assessment processes that are in place to evaluate whether these objectives and outcomes have been met.

Following submission of the self-study, a team of Program Evaluators (PEVs) is sent to the campus for a site visit. The team meets with administrators, faculty, staff, students, and other constituencies (such as industrial representatives) to gain further information on whether the criteria set by ABET are being met.

The evaluation team drafts a report listing strengths, concerns, and weaknesses in the program. Concerns and weaknesses are areas that need to be addressed by the program — either immediately (weakness) or before the next general visit (concern). If no weaknesses are identified, the program may be granted accreditation until the "Next General Review" — for six years. If weaknesses are identified, the program may be asked to submit an "Interim Report" and possibly to have an "Interim Visit" in order to see if progress is being made on addressing the weaknesses. Those occur on two-year cycles.

General Criteria: All ABET-accredited engineering programs must satisfy the ABET General Criteria. These are described on the ABET website and can be found in the EAC General Criteria 2019-2020.

Program Criteria: In addition to the ABET General Criteria, each optical or photonics engineering program must satisfy the applicable Program Criteria. Program Criteria provide the specificity needed for the interpretation of the general criteria as applicable to a given discipline. Requirements stipulated in the Program Criteria are limited to the areas of curricular topics and faculty qualifications.

Criteria for Optical, Photonic, and Similarly Named Engineering Programs: These program criteria apply to all engineering programs that include optical, photonic, or similar modifiers in their titles.

Curriculum: The structure of the curriculum must provide both breadth and depth across the range of engineering topics implied by the title of the program. The curriculum must include theoretical instruction and laboratory experience in geometrical optics, physical optics, optical materials, optical devices and systems, and photonics devices and systems. The curriculum must include chemical science, calculus-based physics, multivariable calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, complex variables, probability, and statistics, as well as their application in solving engineering problems. The curriculum must also include design experiences that incorporate the application of egnineering principles to model, analyze, design, and relaize optical and/or photonics devices and/or systems.

Faculty: Faculty members who teach courses with significant design content must be qualified by virtue of design experience as well as subject matter knowledge.

Commissioner qualifications: Nominees for Commissioner shall have:

  • Substantial experience as educators or practitioners in one or more of the disciplines represented by the Commission. Academic nominees shall also have had experience in ABET-accredited programs unless their discipline is one that has only recently become eligible for accreditation by an ABET Commission.
  • Attended formal Program Evaluator training.
  • Experience as a Program Evaluator on at least three (3) ABET visiting teams. Exceptions to this requirement are permitted only in the case of nominees representing new Member Societies or new curricular areas; in such cases, the nominee must have served as an observer on at least two ABET visiting teams.
  • Attended the Commission’s Team Chair training prior to the effective date of their appointment.
  • Membership in the member society they represent.

Board of Delegates qualifications: Terms on the Board of Delegates will be three years, and societies have the option to reappoint representatives to a second term.

Each society must assign its Board of Delegates member(s) to represent it on at least one of the relevant Area Delegation(s), and may select different individuals as alternate delegates to serve on the other Area Delegation(s) in which the society has an interest.

Members of the Board of Delegates should have experience with ABET accreditation, most likely as a commissioner, team chair and/or long-serving program evaluator. We expect that these persons will be well informed on trends in technical education that relate to curriculum, instructional delivery and the needs and expectations of industry for the knowledge and abilities of new graduates. Delegates serve as representatives and advocates for the perspectives of their respective societies.

The Board of Delegates will meet twice each year in March and October, immediately prior to meetings of the ABET Board of Directors.

Societies are expected to cover the travel expenses for members of the Board of Delegates and Area Delegations.

ABET Program Evaluators: SPIE co-leads the Optics and Photonics programs with IEEE Photonics. As an Associate Member, SPIE does not accept applications for ABET Program Evaluators. Applications are accepted through IEEE. If you have questions, please contact Laura Sharik at SPIE.