The ABET Humanities and Social Science Requirements

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) has played a central role in the discussion about the aims of engineering education. The educators responsible for setting the minimum requirements for accreditation have recognized the need for instantiating the philosophy described above. As a result, very specific requirements were established to ensure that engineering departments would achieve the goals implied by the philosophy. The following briefly reviews the existing requirements and their justification.

The overall curricular objective of the ABET criteria clearly enunciates the relevance of a wide perspective on the future professional life of engineering students. Included in the goal of applying their knowledge in a "professional manner" are developing "(1) a capability to delineate and solve in a practical way the problems of society that are susceptible to engineering treatment, (2) a sensitivity to the socially-related technical problems which confront the profession, (3)an understanding of the ethical characteristics of the engineering profession and practice, (4) an understanding of the engineer’s responsibility to protect both occupational and public health and safety, and (5) an ability to maintain professional competence through life-long learning." (IV.C.2)

To achieve these aims the basic ABET requirement is "one half-year of humanities and social sciences." (IV.C.3.a(2)) A half-year is defined as sixteen semester or twenty-four quarter hours. This requirement is then refined by the following stipulations:

The ABET requirements, within a limited scope, attempt to assure a minimum adherence to the traditional ideal of liberal education. They recognize that all students need exposure to the humanities and social sciences. Of course, engineering students are required to take more science and mathematics courses than would be the case within a traditional liberal arts core. The "breadth and depth" requirement ensures both that students are exposed to several HSS disciplines and that they study one with some thoroughness. Since the overall requirement is for only six quarter-length HSS courses, depth generally means only a sequence of two courses. Yet it establishes the idea that learning in HSS disciplines is continuous just as it is in technical fields. The non-skills requirement indicates a commitment to the traditional liberal arts, rather than simply an emphasis on job training. The HSS requirement is intended to aid the development of engineering students as whole persons. The need for such a perspective has been verified by the fact that the real value of the HSS component becomes apparent to many students only years after graduation, when they regularly report that they wish they had received more humanities and social science content in their education.


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