By Carl Borleis
Director of Program Excellence
Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence
Accreditation – according to the Cambridge Dictionary, accreditation is defined as “official approval, especially in order to maintain satisfactory standards”. Accreditation is frequently used in academia, especially in higher education, to ensure that a college or university meets certain standards. Credit-based programs, and colleges in general are accredited by entities such as the Higher Learning Commission which set and maintain academic standards. In Career and Technical Education (CTE), there are often additional standards that should also be met. These standards are technical in nature and specific to the industry being taught. These industry-specific standards usually apply to both academic entities and the specific industry. Being accredited based on an industry-created set of standards is one of several benchmarks that the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence uses to measure the quality of a transportation program in the state.
A great example is the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). ASE is an independent, non-profit organization that has been around since 1972. When you go to a local repair shop, perhaps you have seen their logo. It is a white circle surrounding a blue gear with a white lettered ASE inside of the gear. Knowing that a repair shop is ASE certified ensures a customer that this shop meets certain industry standards in knowledge and understanding related to how to diagnose and repair your vehicle. Certain school CTE programs can also be ASE certified through the ASE Education Foundation. By being ASE certified, these school programs demonstrate that they meet the same industry standards. A student that is ASE certified has demonstrated that (s)he passed the same tests as an ASE certified shop technician. They are a high-quality, entry-level candidate for that open technician position. ASE accredits schools, students, shops and technicians in the Automobile repair, Auto Body/Collision, and Medium/Heavy Duty Truck markets.
Another entity that accredits students, shops and technicians is I-CAR. I-CAR stands for the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair. They are an international non-profit that provides information, knowledge and skills related to collision repair. They have been around since 1979. What makes I-CAR different from ASE is they concentrate their efforts mainly in the area of collision repair, but they also work in collaboration with 6 different segments of the collision repair industry: Repairers, Educators, Services, Suppliers, Insurers, and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM). For shops and schools, I-CAR‘s certification is a collection of topical skills-based assessments vs. the comprehensive knowledge and understanding model of ASE.
In the aviation world, it is somewhat different. Instead of a private, non-profit organization establishing the standards, the federal government sets and manages the standards. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has strict criteria, standards, and tests related to people (Airmen, Pilots, and Mechanics), Aircraft, Medical Requirements, Air Carriers/Agencies, Airports, and even Commercial Space Transportation. While the Federal Government is the overarching entity related to aviation standards and skills, the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) is a non-profit organization which was established in 1988 to set standards and allow colleges and universities to submit themselves to the review of peers and the industry. The AABI is the only non-governmental aviation accrediting organization of college and university aviation programs in the world. Minnesota State University Mankato is an example of a school which follows FAA standards/regulations and is also accredited through AABI.
Diesel technician educational programs in the state colleges are diverse. Some programs concentrate on truck, agriculture, or construction based equipment only, while others offer two, or all three areas of diesel power. Some programs use the ASE criteria since their standards cover medium and heavy duty trucks, while some use the standards set up by the Association of Equipment Distributors (AED). AED is an international trade association, started in 1919, representing companies involved in the distribution, rental and support of equipment used in construction, mining, forestry, power generation, agriculture and industrial applications. They serve independent distributors, manufacturers, and suppliers of business services including finance and insurance. In 1991, AED founded the AED Foundation which created the standards related to education and workforce development.
Powersports, which includes equipment such as ATV’s, UTV’s, motorcycles, boat motors, lawn care equipment, compact diesel, and other small engines, has its own organization in charge of industry standards. The Equipment and Engine Training Council (EETC) is that organization. They have standards and tests for two stroke, four stroke, diesel engines, electrical, drivelines, mechanical systems, generators, and reel technology (The old rotary blade mower has grown up with engines and even ride-along capabilities).
Truck driving education is going through a transition caused by new federal regulations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is a division of the US Dept. of Transportation, similar to the FAA. Currently scheduled to take affect February 7, 2022, the FMCSA has created a set of standards for the education of entry-level truck drivers into the industry. There are several changes which will happen in 2022. The first one includes a requirement that everyone desiring to obtain or upgrade their CDL must attend training by a certified training provider that is registered with the FMCSA. Another change is the set of standards requiring training providers to cover specific academic and behind-the-wheel material with assessments related those required topics. The FMCSA has a myriad of regulations related to truck driving and operations, and has had long-established knowledge and skills testing for entry level drivers. The new standards and testing requirements must be completed and verified by the driver’s state of residence before a student can take the long-standing, state-administered road test familiar to the industry. The standards created by the FMCSA are based on standards set by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI).
PTDI standards are actually more stringent than those required by the FMCSA, so accreditation through PTDI is still a benefit to an educational entity involved in truck driver training.
The Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence also oversees multiple Specialty/Education programs within the state. These programs include: Automotive Engineering Technology, Nondestructive Testing Technology, Transportation Management, and Technology Education (both High School and Post-Secondary). Although transportation related, they are more academically based. They adhere to accreditation entities like the Higher Learning Commission, but could also be accredited though accreditation organizations such as ABET, A2LA, NATMI, and ASCM.
Accreditation organizations can be found for many types of industry. Sometimes governmental, often nonprofit and industry-created, accreditation entities establish industry specific standards which are often used by educational programs to ensure they are properly training an individual in preparation for their chosen career.