Issue Date: January 2, 2012
Evolution Of The ACS Guidelines For Bachelor’s Degree Programs
For the past 75 years, the American Chemical Society has operated an approval program for undergraduate chemistry programs. The ACS approval program, administered by the Committee on Professional Training (CPT), was initiated by leading research chemists from academe and industry to promote excellence in the education and training of chemists at the undergraduate level. Currently, 667 undergraduate chemistry programs are ACS approved, allowing the chairs of these programs to certify graduates as having met the curricular requirements defined by the ACS Guidelines for Bachelor’s Degree Programs.
The ACS guidelines promote excellence in the preparation of undergraduates by providing minimum requirements for department infrastructure and curricula for the certified major. The guidelines have been revised several times since the first version was released in 1939. The current version was released in 2008 and is available at www.acs.org/cpt.
The 2008 guidelines were a marked departure from earlier versions. The curricular requirements were designed around breadth requirements that provide overview coverage of five chemistry subdisciplines—analytical, biochemistry, inorganic, organic, and physical—and four in-depth courses that build on this foundation. As part of the 400 laboratory hours required beyond general chemistry, students must have lab exposure to at least four of these five chemistry subdisciplines.
To give programs greater flexibility in their in-depth course offerings, the areas covered by the in-depth courses can be determined by the department. Although many programs continue to offer a curriculum in which the in-depth courses are the second semesters of organic and physical chemistry, instrumental analysis, and advanced inorganic chemistry, others have taken advantage of the flexibility of the 2008 guidelines to recast their curriculum in a less divisional format.
The 2008 guidelines also addressed for the first time the need for students to develop skills in the areas of problem solving, effective use of chemical literature resources, laboratory safety, oral and written communication, teamwork, and the ethical practice of science. Undergraduate research provides an important opportunity for students to develop professional skills, and many programs use it to supplement more formal pedagogies for building students’ skills. Certified majors are required to prepare a written report describing their research.
The ACS guidelines also have requirements related to the infrastructure necessary for an excellent undergraduate program. As part of these requirements, limits are placed on the student contact hours for faculty and instructional staff. The program must maintain a diverse holding of modern instruments, including a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, for hands-on use by students in laboratory courses and in research. The guidelines also list requirements for journal access and literature searching. And the guidelines include a requirement that programs describe their efforts in self-evaluation and how they use feedback from this process to improve their program (or alternatively, better serve their students).
In developing the 2008 guidelines, CPT engaged in a multiyear process that included discussions about the hallmarks of excellence and rigor in the education of undergraduate students and about changes in the pedagogical landscape, such as active and problem-based learning approaches. The committee also considered the criticism that the guidelines were too restrictive and hindered curricular innovation.
These discussions culminated in a document describing proposed changes to the guidelines that was widely disseminated for comment. After receiving feedback from the community, the committee developed a set of proposed guidelines and again solicited comment before the final version of the 2008 guidelines was adopted. By engaging the greater chemistry community in discussions about the preparation of well-trained chemistry undergraduates, the committee endeavored to make the revision process transparent and relevant.
March 2012 will mark the passage of four years since the release of the 2008 ACS guidelines, and CPT will begin reevaluation of the guidelines in preparation of a new edition. The committee welcomes your comments and suggestions as we begin the revision process. You can e-mail your input to email@example.com. CPT is also planning a series of symposia to discuss proposed guideline revisions over the next year or so, and we hope to hear from you at one of these sessions.
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