A recent survey overwhelmingly indicates that professional geologists recognize a need for program accreditation in the geosciences and a crucial need to assure and express quality in the educational program for geologists.
In a perfect world, accreditation would not be necessary because a general agreement would exist as to what coursework, content and educational outcomes are needed for the degree; and academic administrations would provide proper resources for degree programs simply because of need.
However, those are not today’s reality. As reported by Tepel (2002) and Schmitz (2002), “suggested” curriculum for a geology program has been provided by several different professional groups – AAPG, AIPG and AEG, to name a few.
Hence, program accreditation is desperately needed to establish a quality baseline for educational quality and to provide leverage for resources.
Without geology degree program accreditation, no benchmark exists as to what a bachelor of science degree should contain. Further, absent accreditation, the public has no means to compare programs or to understand the outcomes of the education.
This has resulted in great variation in curriculum among programs granting geology degrees, reducing the overall credibility of the degree itself. Educational accountability is not measured nor is the essential utility of the degree program evident compared with programs that are accredited.
Academia, former students, employers and state boards of registration/licensure report vast variability in geology curricula. Hence, the following questions are unanswered or unanswerable:
- Does the degree ensure enough coursework for the student to be successful in geology graduate programs?
- Are there deficiencies in the coursework?
- Does the course title on the transcript guarantee that the material in the course was covered adequately?
- Students may be admitted to graduate school based on the reputation of the undergraduate degree program. Are students from a less-known program as likely to be admitted?
Employers report a great variety in geology curricula on transcripts. Many employers hire entry-level geologists based upon the reputation of a program and institution, rather than just looking for the degree. This same criteria is applied in graduate school admissions as well.
Many employers report through communications or in forums that the great variety of coursework between different programs is of serious concern.
State boards of licensure also report the great variety of content found in a geology degree.
Each board reviews the coursework shown on each applicant’s transcripts during processing of an application for registration and licensure – not just for the degree itself, but for the content of the coursework. State boards have discovered transcripts/dossiers from graduates of programs that grant a degree in geology from a curriculum whose minimum requirements were 12 hours of geology coursework above the introductory level – about 20 hours total geology coursework.
Is that a sufficient amount of coursework for the degree? If so, then why do other programs require as much as three, maybe four times that much geology coursework? Is that too much?
In the states that have registration/licensure of geologists, the passing of a “fundamentals” examination is used to ensure a certain minimal level of knowledge was attained as a part of obtaining the registration/licensure. This is necessary is because of the lack of a baseline for curriculum requirements and quality of learning outcomes leading to a geology degree.
Additional evidence of the variety of coursework and content in curricula is provided by former students, from two different perspectives.
- One is by exposure to other programs while they are in graduate school. “I can’t believe they don’t teach that in this program,” or “Why didn’t my program have that course?” are commonly heard.
- Former students also provide evidence from an employee perspective in somewhat similar form: “I am glad we had that course/experience, it has really been a benefit,” and “I couldn’t believe that my co-worker’s program did not have it,” as well as “I needed to have that, like my co-worker’s program did.”
Without degree/program accreditation there is no identifiable baseline for curriculum and for educational outcomes.
Availability of resources further intensifies this situation – budget cuts have resulted in losses of partial or entire programs … but degrees are still being awarded.
How often does a degree with program accreditation get eliminated? Academic administrations flaunt accredited programs.
Accreditation is needed in today’s world not only to provide a quality baseline for educational content, but also to obtain and maintain necessary resources for programs.
Program accreditation for geosciences will assure respect as in other professions and protect academic programs from erosion in challenging economic times.