Program accreditation puts a stamp of approval on graduates. A person who has graduated from an accredited program has met minimum standards that were approved by a recognized accredited agency. Often these standards are developed in a process of consultation and consent with educational institutions, professional associations, and the relevant industry where graduates would work.
Accreditation provides educational programs with opportunities for self-definition and self-reflection, and with feedback on program content and direction. Central to the process is the preparation of self-study by the program which gives the program an opportunity to review its performance against accreditation standards and to measure its progress over time. Periodic re-evaluations are also established which lead to continuous improvement.
Accreditation affords the opportunity for the profession, through the accrediting agency, to provide guidance to new and existing academic programs. Accreditation standards are re-evaluated periodically and modified so that they address changes in the technical, social, and economical environment. This process provides programs with guidance on how they may need to adapt to changes in the environment wherein they operate.
Program accreditation aims to protect the interests of students, their parents, the academic institutions that offer the accredited programs, potential employers, and the general public. This outcome is obtained by ensuring that the accredited educational programs have attained a level of performance in multiple areas that meets or exceeds minimum standards that were developed by experts in the field. While program accreditation does not ensure that every graduating student will become a successful professional, it does guarantee that the student has demonstrated a certain set of skills and abilities that are required by the accreditation standards. Graduating from an accredited program is not a sufficient condition for professional success, but in some disciplines, it serves as a necessary condition.
When an accreditation body – such as ABET Inc. in the United States or JABEE in Japan – determines that a program complied with its criteria, that body grants it an accreditation credential. This credential is often granted for a finite period of time (the program will have to be re-accredited to remain accredited). The credential is of interest to the following constituencies of higher educational institutions and programs:
Students use the accreditation credential to introduce their educational background to employers. Some employers would not consider candidates for employment for some jobs if the candidates did not graduate from an accredited program. Other employers prefer candidates who graduated from accredited programs over candidates who graduated from unaccredited programs.
Students who apply to be admitted to other educational programs (for example those who wish to study toward a higher-level degree) often benefit from the accreditation credential in the admission process. Many educational programs would not consider candidates for admission if these candidates did not graduate from an accredited program. Other programs prefer candidates who graduated from accredited programs over candidates who graduated from unaccredited programs.
Prospective students use the accreditation status of a program/institution as a factor in their decision on whether to enroll. An accredited program is almost always preferred to an unaccredited program because of the better prospects of graduates from accredited programs in job applications and in applications to graduate school. In areas where several accrediting bodies operate, the reputation of the accrediting body that has approved a program sometimes becomes a factor in student enrollment decisions.
Professional societies use their influence on accreditation standards to increase the relevance of the curriculum in their fields of interest. The societies do so by participating in the process of setting the standards for accreditation, by encouraging professionals to serve as accreditation program evaluators, and by supporting accrediting bodies financially. In some countries, the professional societies established the accrediting bodies and have a significant influence on their practices and procedures.
Licensing bodies often seek a mechanism to guarantee that individuals who present themselves to licensing body examinations have had the necessary educational background to practice within the profession. This background would encourage future licensed engineers to practice in a manner that is consistent with the safety and welfare of the public, as well as with accepted professional norms. In many jurisdictions, licensing bodies address this objective by requiring that licenses are granted only to graduates of programs accredited by a recognized accrediting body.
Employers seek efficiency in the process of hiring and in training new employees. Often they find that by restricting hiring to graduates of accredited programs, they are able to recruit, on average, higher-quality employees than by allowing applicants from all accredited and non-accredited programs. Multinational corporations often use accreditation as a factor in hiring. This practice is especially true in new labor markets where a corporation may not have sufficient experience with graduates of various academic programs.
Some governments use program accreditation as a selection criterion for employment candidates. The government prefers graduates of accredited programs in roles that involve public infrastructure, standardization, and R&D. By hiring graduates of accredited programs, the government ensures that they will be eligible to become licensed as they progress in their roles and responsibilities.
Licensed engineers value program accreditation because it provides the profession with new candidates for licensing - ultimately improving the quality of professional services and supporting the reputation of the profession.
Academic programs, especially graduate programs, require that applicants demonstrate sufficient academic background to warrant admission. For this reason, academic programs tend to prefer students who graduated from accredited programs over other students.
The general public often lacks the knowledge and experience to assess the quality of professional services. One way to increase public trust in the services provided by a certain profession is to ensure that the profession maintains the educational and experiential levels of practicing professionals. This aim is supported by the profession through participation in the accreditation and licensing process, and in setting minimum quality thresholds of entry to the profession. One of these thresholds is accreditation, namely that practicing professionals have graduated from programs accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.
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