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Comment

Comment: ACS Approval Program has revised guidelines for bachelor’s degrees

by Cora MacBeth, chair, ACS Committee on Professional Training
April 30, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 14

 

Cora MacBeth.
Credit: K. Kress
Cora MacBeth

The American Chemical Society Committee on Professional Training (CPT) was established in 1936 with a goal “to promote and assist in the development of high standards of excellence in . . . chemical education.” The ACS Guidelines for Bachelor’s Degree Programs, developed by CPT with input from the currently approved programs, is used to communicate degree expectations for programs obtaining or maintaining ACS approval. The ACS Approval Program stakeholders include undergraduate students who enroll in courses offered by approved programs, faculty members, institutions of higher education, and future employers.

To keep the ACS Approval Program requirements up to date, we have continued to evolve and revise the guidelines. The most recent revisions were formally approved in January. We are now working to implement the updated guidelines and adopt a new structure through which programs report to the ACS Approval Program Office. In this Comment, I discuss the updated guidelines, the motivations behind some of the major changes, and the importance of program approval.

The 2023 guidelines look very different from the 2015 version. Perhaps most importantly, the revised guidelines present the requirements for program approval in three categories: critical requirements, normal expectations, and markers of excellence. The critical requirements are the essential components of the guidelines that programs must achieve and maintain to become and remain ACS approved.

The 2023 guidelines are organized into eight pillars: institutional environment; faculty and staff; infrastructure; coursework, curriculum, and pedagogy; undergraduate research; safety; professional skills; and diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect (DEIR). Perhaps the most significant structural changes are that DEIR and safety are each a stand-alone section. This change was made after gaining input from stakeholders. Safety is an essential pillar of chemical professionalism, and evaluating it independently helps magnify its importance as an essential attribute of undergraduate chemical education. DEIR is a core value of ACS and is included to ensure that students of all backgrounds and perspectives have the support, tools, and learning environment needed to persist and thrive in undergraduate chemistry programs.

The goal of CPT is not to be bean counters but rather to empower and enable approved programs to continue to promote the highest standards of excellence in undergraduate chemistry education.

Important changes were also made to increase the flexibility in the coursework and curricular requirements. The number of laboratory hours required for an approved degree has been changed from 400 to 350 (exclusive of lab hours taken in introductory or general chemistry). The 2023 guidelines stipulate that a minimum of 220 of those hours come from lab courses taught in the department; the remainder can be used for undergraduate research or a combination of laboratory experiences taught in other departments. This change will allow departments more flexibility in meeting the lab hour requirement by including time spent in advanced laboratories in adjacent fields—for example, molecular biology lab courses required for biochemistry majors. We hope this change will allow programs to innovate and continue to develop ACS-​approved degree tracks or concentrations in interdisciplinary fields.

Frequency requirements were changed for in-depth course offerings. Previous guidelines required that four semester-​long in-depth courses be taught each academic year, whereas the 2023 guidelines require only three. This change will enable departments of all sizes to meet the frequency requirements while ensuring their students are able to graduate with ACS-approved degrees within 4 years.

We hope that these new guidelines will provide chemistry programs and departments flexibility when undergoing curricular revisions. Another change is that reviewers can provide more specific feedback to departments that are developing innovative courses, collaborations, student experiences, and degree programs.

Finally, I want to mention the ways in which the ACS Approval Program and CPT interact with chemistry departments and faculty and some of the value the program approval process offers. CPT meets regularly with chemistry department chairs and other ACS committees interested in chemistry education to both welcome feedback and inform our future work. These quarterly discussions help identify needs in the community while simultaneously informing ACS and CPT about current trends in undergraduate chemical education.

In 2022, as part of the ACS Approval Program annual reporting process, 634 approved programs were surveyed for their views on the value of the program. The results illustrated that approval is valued by departments for multiple reasons: 69% of respondents said the program provides departments with leverage to maintain course offerings and infrastructure, 62% said it offers support that helps drive curricular development, and 56% said it allows regular evaluation of course content.

The goal of CPT is not to be bean counters but rather to empower and enable approved programs to continue to promote the highest standards of excellence in undergraduate chemistry education. We are always willing to answer questions about the approval process and about the data ACS collects as part of the approval process. We welcome your feedback at cpt@acs.org.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.

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