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ACS Guidelines For Bachelor’s Degree Programs: Revisions Near Completion

by Anne B. Mccoy , Thomas J. Wenzel
November 17, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 46

Credit: Donna Fahner
Headshot of Anne B. McCoy, chair of ACS Committee on Professional Training.
Credit: Donna Fahner

Since January 2012, the American Chemical Society Committee on Professional Training (CPT) has been developing a revised edition of the ACS Guidelines for Bachelor’s Degree Programs. Last month, the committee released a draft of the revised guidelines to chemistry department chairs and invited them to provide feedback. The committee will review the responses and then release the finalized new guidelines early next year. The current draft guidelines can be found at; the final version will be posted there as well.

Credit: Phyllis Graeber Jensen
Headshot of Thomas J. Wenzel, the vice chair of ACS Committee on Professional Training.
Credit: Phyllis Graeber Jensen

The guidelines describe the attributes of excellence in chemistry departments, with an emphasis on the curriculum and the infrastructure needed to support the curriculum. As such, they provide departments a context for discussing their chemistry major and other degree tracks and for obtaining the necessary resources to maintain an excellent program. The guidelines also outline the experiences and knowledge that a student who is awarded an ACS-certified degree must obtain.

A focus of the committee’s discussion during the revision has been on the experiences and skills a program needs to provide for its graduates so they are well prepared to go to graduate school or to enter the workforce and continue on to a successful career in the chemical sciences. The committee has given considerable attention to the characteristics that an approved department needs in order to support the education of the future leaders in the chemical enterprise. From the start, the committee has recognized that the guidelines should support chemistry departments as they strive toward excellence, also raising the bar on the expectations for an excellent program.

Throughout its deliberations, the committee has sought to strike an appropriate balance between requirements that departments must meet for approval and flexibility that enables the development of innovative curricula.

Several additions and modifications have been introduced in the revised guidelines. In cases where these changes may take some chemistry departments time to address, currently approved programs and those that are in the process of applying for approval will be given at least six years to meet the new requirements.

With increases in the demands on chemistry faculty, we have found it is difficult for chemistry departments with fewer than five permanent faculty members to have the expertise to support the breadth of the curriculum and teach the required number of courses for their majors to earn a certified degree. Therefore, the revised guidelines require a minimum of five full-time faculty members who are fully committed to the chemistry program. Approved programs with fewer than five faculty members will be given until January 2025 to add another faculty member.

Certified majors must have access to and be trained on a broad array of instrumentation. In addition to requiring an NMR spectrometer, the revised guidelines stipulate that certified majors use instrumentation from at least four general categories. Also, programs must continue to emphasize safe practices throughout the curriculum and promote a culture of safety. And approved programs will now be required to provide their students with instruction in the principles of polymer chemistry­.­

The importance of student skills cannot be overemphasized. Student skills were introduced into the 2008 guidelines, and the requirements in this area have been broadened. The revised guidelines further reinforce the importance of the development and assessment of student skills in ethics, communication, teamwork, and problem solving. Skills in database management and working with the chemical literature are being strengthened in the revised guidelines.

The committee discussed the opportunity to reinforce and assess these skills through a capstone experience that would be required of all certified majors as part of the guidelines revision. This requirement was not adopted; instead, the revised guidelines emphasize the importance of skill development throughout the undergraduate experience. We continue to explore the variety of ways departments can impart and assess student skills.

As part of this effort, CPT held a symposium on this topic earlier this summer at the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education. Details of the outcomes of this symposium will be provided in an upcoming newsletter, which will be available at later this year. We will continue the discussion of student skill development with a symposium at the ACS national meeting in Boston next year.

Throughout the revision process, CPT reached out to other ACS committees as well as technical divisions, chemistry department chairs, and individual faculty members for comment. In October, the draft guidelines were circulated one final time to enable chemistry programs to comment on the proposed changes. The feedback we have received to date has been invaluable, and the committee thanks everyone who has provided input. Additional comments received by Dec. 1 will be most helpful as we prepare for our meeting in early January.

Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ACS.


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