The New ABET 2000 HSS Requirements
Engineering education in the U.S. is about to undergo a significant, and perhaps profound, period of change as a result of a new vision for the future. This vision is outlined in a new set of accreditation requirements found in the document ABET 2000. Included in the new requirements are proposed changes for the HSS component of the curriculum. The most fundamental changes affecting the HSS curriculum are the elimination of the half-year minimum requirement and the establishment of a mission and assessment based curriculum.
The December 1995 draft of ABET 2000 establishes that each institution must have:
Included in the objectives must be a demonstration of the following outcomes relevant to the HSS component of the curriculum:
Instead of requiring a minimum number of HSS courses or distribution requirements, the new criteria establish a convergence of aims between the technical and liberal education components of the curriculum. Criterion 4, called the professional component, only states that included must be "a general education component that complements the technical content of the curriculum and is consistent with the program and institution objectives." Emphasis is given to the fact that the total curriculum must prepare students for a major culminating design experience which includes recognition of the following types of considerations: "economic, environmental, sustainability, manufacturability, ethical, health and safety, social and political."
The new criteria appear to imply less emphasis on the ideal of a traditional liberal arts core in favor of a more applied conception of the humanities and social sciences. This is verified by the fact that the non-skills requirement is being eliminated. The basis behind this might be that some believe that, given the pace of knowledge accumulation in the sciences and technology, there is insufficient room in the curriculum for meeting all traditional educational objectives. Thus as much practical material as possible, even at the expense of traditional liberal learning, needs to be integrated into all the components of the curriculum. Another interpretation might be that the technical content of the curriculum has become too narrow and should therefore be expanded in two directions. One, within the technical courses itself, and two, by relating the technical component to the humanities and social sciences in HSS courses. Whatever the intention, it is clear that humanities and social science departments related to engineering colleges will have to respond to the change in requirements.