Students and faculty in the Department of Engineering at The University of Texas-Pan American are applauding the accreditation of the university's undergraduate programs in electrical, manufacturing and mechanical engineering by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), the national accrediting agency for engineering programs.
"ABET accreditation is the standard of quality used in the technical community to qualify engineering programs," said Dr. Edwin LeMaster, chair of the Department of Engineering. "It guarantees a student that a program meets national standards."
The accreditation is effective Spring 1996, making the accreditation retroactive to include all students who have graduated from the program since that time.
"Many employers look for ABET accreditation before they will hire graduates, graduate schools will look for accreditation to give preferential admission, and professional registration boards will require less experience to become a registered professional engineer when you graduate from an accredited school," he said.
More employers are expected to recruit at UT Pan American for engineering graduates, now that the program has established that it meets the high level of quality required by ABET.
LeMaster pointed out that even without ABET accreditation, graduates from the engineering program have had little difficulty in finding employment. However, he said, "many industries will pay a higher salary if you are a graduate of an accredited program," adding that students already employed could see salary increases of as much as $5,000.
Students also will have an easier time transferring classes from UT Pan American to other institutions, and arranging cooperative programs with other accredited universities will be simpler, he said.
"Accreditation also comes with the obligation of looking carefully at courses that we transfer in from unaccredited schools such as community colleges, particularly the engineering courses."
According to LeMaster, current students are delighted with news of the ABET accreditation.
"When I announce it to my engineering classes, they break into applause and cheer."
He said the program has been preparing for ABET accreditation since its inception in 1992, when it began offering junior-level courses. A pre-engineering program of freshman- and sophomore-level classes had existed at the university for several years prior to the creation of the engineering program.
"The goal of accreditation is to maintain standards of excellence in engineering education throughout the United States, and it also helped us in our planning to have that goal to set for our program in terms of facilities, equipment, quality of faculty and library holdings," he said. "All our planning was based on the goal of getting the program accredited as soon as possible, but 'as soon as' possible meant that we had to have graduates from all of our programs first."
Even before ABET accreditation, engineering was a growing program with 613 majors this fall - a seven percent increase over last year - and a 28 percent increase in the number of hours for which engineering students have enrolled. A new $23 million Engineering Building with state-of-the-art equipment opened on the east side of campus last fall, giving UT Pan American one of the best-equipped undergraduate facilities in the country.
"We expect accreditation and the new building to combine to mark a period of greater growth in the program, and we're delighted," LeMaster said.
"I think it (ABET accreditation) opens up our university to a wider population of students," he said. "We'll be attractive now to students throughout the state and the whole region beyond the state boundaries because our accreditation has established us as a quality engineering school."