The UC Santa Cruz computer engineering department chose not to renew its 20-year Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which is required or strongly preferred for many government engineering jobs. While the electrical engineering (EE) B.S. degree will continue to carry its accreditation, beginning Sept. 30, the computer engineering (CE) B.S. degree won’t.
“It’s bullshit. ABET accreditation is really important,” said recent CE graduate Catherine Grizzell. “If you want to do software, it’s not as important, but if you want to work for a government contracted agency in a government sector, it’s required.”
Since Grizzell just graduated this summer, she is one of the last students to carry a certified CE ABET degree at UCSC. As of this fall, the remaining over 140 declared computer engineering majors will not have ABET accreditation on their degrees when they graduate. While UC Davis, UCLA and UC Berkeley have ABET-accredited computer engineering programs, UC San Diego and Stanford do not.
“We can confidently say that losing ABET accreditation impacts and limits students’ career prospects and opportunities,” said ABET senior director of global communications and marketing Danielle Duran Baron.
A degree that carries an ABET certification upholds that a university program is held to a certain standard, and that employers are assured that those who have ABET accreditation are taught according to a particular curriculum. Boeing, some departments of NASA and Space X and other large corporations highly encourage applicants to be ABET certified, while other states, like Florida, require ABET accreditation for certain government engineering jobs.
“Generally, engineering licensing boards require physical engineering candidates to have an ABET-accredited bachelor’s degree to sit for their exam, and government labs also require that their hires have graduated from an ABET-accredited program, as do many large multinational companies,” Baron said.
Renewing ABET accreditation is a two-year process. UCSC renewed its ABET accreditation for the EE B.S. in January 2015 but did not have the time and resources to renew the computer engineering major accreditation, said computer engineering chair Martine Schlag.
“We started to think that it’s just not worth the effort anymore […] it involves documenting the courses and also assessment processes and reporting it all in a 300 page document,” Shlag said. “It’s a lot of hours and process. At that point, we were struggling with a lack of faculty and staff. We were just trying to make it through supporting our curriculum for the year, and at that point, we realized that we could do it, but is it really where we want to put our effort?”
In December 2015, all mention of ABET accreditation for the computer engineering major was removed from the 2016-17 course catalog, and in February 2016, computer engineering’s web pages erased all mentions of ABET. Likewise, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs and computer engineering professor Tracy Larrabee said in an email that CE announced that the degree would no longer carry the ABET accreditation at freshman orientation.
“Most [students] seemed unconcerned,” Larrabee said in an email. “I assured those who were concerned that they could still pursue an accredited program at UCSC. It will be interesting to see if a significant number of proposed CE majors switch to EE.”
But some students are concerned. For some schools, including UCSC, ABET accreditation isn’t a priority for the CE major because it is more often required for bioengineering and EE fields. But some students say that because of the competitive nature of all engineering fields and schools, the lack of accreditation could impact their career opportunities down the line.
“Everyone that came into the school was under the premise that they were getting an accredited degree, so now many people aren’t going to get it and they weren’t even told,” Grizzell said. “On the CE website it even says that we have ABET accreditation.”
Some students wanted to speak out against the lack of ABET renewal but expressed concern that their own educational opportunities and employment potential would be compromised if their names were printed.
“If the reason we lost the ABET accreditation is because we were short-staffed,
something needs to be reevaluated because it’s unacceptable,” said a CE student who wished to remain anonymous. “It’s detrimental to people’s careers and [UCSC Admin] could be putting the careers of students at risk, potentially.”
Several students expressed that the CE department gave no warning of the department losing its accreditation. Grizzell said the EE department told her, and after posting on Facebook about it, more students commented that they were unaware of it.
“When we lose a major opportunity or resource, we need to know about it,” the anonymous student said. “Otherwise, you just get blindsided later in life.”
Shlag said that while the computer engineering department reached out to the Dean of Students Office for assistance, the budget cuts at the time prevented bringing in more faculty and resources to help with the renewal process.
“Things have gotten better in the last year or so, and we’ve been able to replace some of the faculty we lost during the last eight years, but we aren’t there yet,” Schlag said.
If there is a significant impact on students, the computer engineering department will renew it’s ABET accreditation Shlag said. But that will take a minimum of two years, leaving current third and fourth year computer engineering students without accreditation.
“I am very relieved that I have it because I was going to have to transfer to electrical engineering [to get ABET],” Grizzell said. “But I am really disappointed with the CE department. The department will not be behind you. They couldn’t care less about the students. It’s going to go downhill fast.”