The Value of Accreditation

Judging the value of a degree program can be a complicated process. In the field of engineering and technology, however, ABET accreditation provides a reliable indicator of quality for students, employers and other stakeholders. ABET, which was established in 1932 as the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development, now includes 35 member societies and provides accreditation for applied science, computing, engineering and engineering technology.

The leadership of ABET plays a vital role in the fields of engineering, science and technology. ABET accreditation, which focuses on the outcomes of student learning, has an effect that reaches beyond college classrooms. When looking for the best candidates, employers look for ABET accreditation on resumes, and professional boards often include an ABET accredited degree as a requirement for granting licenses.

One of the key figures in this organization is the president of the board. The current president, Larry Jones, BSIE ’69, MSIE ’70, guides this important organization using the industrial engineering skills he developed at the University of Arkansas.

Finding His Calling

Larry Jones grew up in Arkansas. His father, who was in the Air Force, loved the area so much he managed to get assigned to the base in North Little Rock several times in a row. Jones decided to attend college at the University of Arkansas because it was close to home and had a good reputation in engineering, his chosen major.

Jones took classes in civil and electrical engineering, but knew he hadn’t found his calling. It was John Imhoff, the industrial engineering department head, who helped him find the major that was right for him. “Imhoff had a whole crew of young, top-notch faculty,” Jones remembered. “All the students were impressed by them.” It wasn’t until later in his career that Jones realized how far-reaching the department’s reputation actually was; even his predecessor at ABET was familiar with the work of several of his former U of A professors.

Jones received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in industrial engineering. He also met his wife, Chris, at the U of A, on a blind date. Chris was studying elementary education, with a minor in voice. Their first child was born when Jones was in graduate school.

An Evolving Career

When Jones finished college, he joined the Air Force. At the time, the Air Force didn’t need additional engineers, so they assigned him to his second choice for officer training, the computer center. Jones explained that although his industrial engineering background gave him some familiarity with computing, he had to learn a lot on the job.

The Air Force selected Jones for an academic sponsorship, which allowed him to earn a Ph.D. at Vanderbilt, where he studied computer science. After that, Jones joined the faculty at the Air Force Academy, where he eventually became head of the department.

During that time, Jones also spent a couple years working for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in The Hague. He worked at the technical center that supported the NATO headquarters in Belgium, studying command and control systems. In this position, Jones investigated ways to coordinate the activities of the nations that worked together in Belgium, finding ways to help them cooperate efficiently.

One of his favorite things about this time was the exposure he got to so many different cultures, explained Jones. His officemate was Dutch, his best friend was Belgian, and his bosses were German and Italian. Everyone spoke several different languages throughout the workday; Jones said he usually spent the first hour of every day speaking Dutch.

The Value of Computer Science

While he was in the Air Force, Jones also got involved in accreditation for computer science programs. While ABET has been providing accreditation for engineering degrees since 1932, there was no accreditation available for computer science programs until 1985. In the eighties, the Association for Computing Machinery and the Computer Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers worked together to create an accreditation agency for the computing field, which was modelled after ABET.

The new agency was called the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board, or CSAB, and the first program it evaluated was the department led by Jones at the Air Force Academy. Jones was asked to volunteer for the new agency, and he became a member of teams that visited universities to evaluate computer science programs.

Jones retired from the Air Force in 1992. After that, he started working at the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon, where his research focused on ways to accelerate the adoption of high-impact technology.

In order to do this, Jones looked at software as a product line. In other words, instead of writing code from start to finish in order to do a task, Jones studied how software engineers could develop reusable pieces of code that could be assembled according to the needs of the market. Jones encouraged members of the industry who worked with the Software Engineering Institute to adopt this approach.

Jones, whose hobby is mountain climbing, has climbed the 100 highest summits in Colorado. He is pictured here on Jagged Mountain.

Rising to the Top

In 2000, CSAB merged with ABET, and Jones took on positions of increasing responsibility in ABET. He served as the chair of the computing commission, then as chair of the accreditation council, which oversees ABET’s four commissions: the Applied Science Commission, the Computing Accreditation Commission, the Engineering Accreditation Commission and the Technology Accreditation Commission. After that, Jones was appointed to the board of directors for ABET and this led to his election to the board’s leadership. In 2014, Jones began the first of three one-year terms: president-elect in 2014, president in 2015 and past-president in 2016.

In this leadership role, Jones hopes to expand the types of accreditation offered by ABET, in response to the evolving demand for high-tech education and training programs. “We’ve seen a growth of different forms of education,” he explained. “What about things that aren’t degree programs, such as boot camps or certificate programs?” He also pointed out that the organization, which is a federation of 35 distinct professional societies, must also make sure they are adequately addressing the needs of interdisciplinary programs.

An Important Message

Another goal is to spread the message of ABET’s role and importance in the field of higher education, during a time when controversy about for-profit institutions has called the role of accreditation in general into question. Jones pointed out that ABET, which does not have any control over student loans, is not one of the groups designated as a Title IV “gatekeeper” by the Department of Education, and it is these groups that are the center of the controversy. However, while national attention is turned to higher education accreditation, ABET has taken the opportunity to ensure that its message and mission are part of the conversation.

“More than 3,500 academic programs at 714 institutions in 29 countries voluntarily seek and maintain ABET accreditation because of the value it provides,” states an article co-authored by Jones and Michael Milligan, executive director and chief executive officer of ABET. “Major employers (e.g.: Boeing, Caterpillar, DuPont, IBM, Raytheon, UPS and many others) play a significant and ongoing role in developing and applying ABET accreditation criteria. More than 30 widely recognized professional and technical societies help select and assign accreditation evaluators. These inputs, as well as strict conflict-of-interest requirements, assure that ABET accreditation is rigorous.”

More than ever, our society needs highly qualified workers in engineering and technical fields. We need to trust that the engineers who are building bridges, designing pacemakers and creating new digital technology are qualified for those jobs and students in these fields need assurance that their degrees are a worthwhile investment. ABET accreditation provides this confidence. Under Jones’ leadership, ABET is continuing its decade-long tradition of ensuring that these programs meet the quality standards to produce students prepared to enter a global workforce.