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We are celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of CSAB, Inc., formerly called the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board, Inc. (CSAB) [1]. The need for accreditation in the area of computing is not a recent phenomenon. The idea and activity span more than three decades.

When an institution or program achieves the status of accreditation, it distinguishes itself as having voluntarily submitted to a scrutiny by its peers and in successfully doing so, an accrediting agency publicly acknowledges such achievement. The accreditation process allows a program to form an introspective reflection of its mission, its program goals or objectives, and the learning outcomes for its students. The accreditation process collectively brings together members of a faculty to examine their own courses and methods and ultimately, elevates the learning environment of its students.

In this narrative, we attempt to compile a history of CSAB over a quarter century by examining corporate documents and by exploring the corporate memory of the principles involved. The corporate files consist of approximately twenty cartons containing minutes of meeting, pamphlets, promotional materials, and other files related to operations of the organization. CSAB is in the process of culling out unwanted and duplicate materials from its current collection and retaining those documents that are meaningful to the long-range sustainability of the organization.

CSAB operated a single commission known as the Computer Science Accreditation Commission, commonly known as CSAC. During its operations, CSAB did intend to form other commissions based on constituency needs. Alas, CSAB's was not destined to fulfill that ambition.



Before delving into CSAB's history, it would be beneficial to explore the meaning of accreditation and some background of such endeavors.

A. Defining Accreditation

Accreditation is a process used throughout the world to establish standards of quality primarily in educational institutions and programs. The U.S. Department of Education states:

Accreditation is the recognition that an institution maintains standards requisite for its graduates to gain admission to other reputable institutions of higher learning or to achieve credentials for professional practice. The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. [2]

Appendix A provides a more detailed definition of accreditation from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) [3].

Regarding the accreditation of institutions, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) states:

Accreditation is a status granted to an institution that meets or exceeds the stated criteria of educational quality. The purposes of accreditation are to assess and enhance the educational quality of an institution, to assure consistency in institutional operations, to promote institutional improvement, and to provide for public accountability [4].

Regarding specialized accreditation of programs, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) states:

Accreditation is a process of voluntary, non-governmental review of educational institutions and programs. Institutional accreditation reviews entire colleges and universities. Specialized agencies award accreditation for professional programs and academic units in particular fields of study. As a specialized agency, AACSB International grants accreditation for undergraduate and graduate business administration and accounting programs [5].

Accreditation differs from certification and licensing. Accreditation affects institutions and programs; certification and licensing affects people. CSAB has never entered the areas of licensing or certifying individuals. Additionally, it has never entered the area of accrediting institutions, colleges, or schools.

B. Accreditation Perspectives

Historical perspectives of accrediting agencies are many and varied. They include regional accrediting agencies, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology), and CSAB. Accreditation in the United States can trace it roots as far back as 1885 when the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) began its operations as an accrediting association [6]. For an expanded discussion on the early efforts of accreditation in the United States, consult [7].

ABET is a federation of twenty-nine professional engineering and technical societies. Since 1932, ABET and its predecessor organizations have provided quality assurance of education through accreditation. Today, ABET accredits more than 2700 engineering, engineering technology, computing and applied science programs at more than 550 colleges and universities nationally [8].

C. The Accreditation Process

To achieve accreditation status, an institution, school, or program entity must issue a formal communication to the accrediting agency requesting its desire to engage in the accreditation process. The institution must prepare a self-study according to prescribed guidelines. If the accrediting agency accepts the candidacy of an applicant, it will conduct a formal visit to the campus and arrives at a decision usually within a year. The complete process (preparing the self-study, conducting the visit, and reaching a decision) takes approximately two years. An explanation of the accreditation process as it existed in the 1990s appears in [9]. Today, the accreditation process is intrinsic and most accrediting agencies have adopted an “outcome-based approach” as a vehicle to determine whether an entity should receive accreditation.


THE PRE-CSAB YEARS (1965-1980)

CSAB emerged as an accrediting body that addressed multi-disciplinary areas within the computing profession. Its origins trace back to approximately 1965 with the development of curriculum materials to address emerging computer areas. At that time, work in these areas had taken place by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) [10], the IEEE Computer Society (IEEE/CS) [11], and the Data Processing Management Association (DPMA), currently the Association for Information Technology Professionals (AITP) [12].

Though significant overlaps existed, ACM directed its efforts toward the theoretical (scientific) areas; IEEE/CS directed its activities toward the engineering areas; DPMA directed its efforts to the business areas. The resulting new disciplines became known as computer science, computer engineering (or computer science and engineering), and information systems.

In 1965 ACM developed its first curriculum report called “An undergraduate program in computer science-preliminary recommendations” [13], followed by Curriculum'68 [14], which is generally credited with establishing guidelines for computer science academic programs. The IEEE/CS focused most of its work through the Computer Science in Electrical Engineering (COSINE) Committee, a project of the Commission on Engineering Education that presented a number of reports [15] in these aspects of the field. The DPMA did not develop curricula guidelines at this point. However, ACM developed recommend curricula in information systems, published in 1972 [16]. The portion of DPMA involved with academic programs subsequently was reformed as the Association for Information Systems (AIS) [17].

Throughout this period, ACM, IEEE/CS, and DPMA were partners in the American Federation of Information Processing Societies (AFIPS). In this organization were the primary societies sponsoring the Fall and Spring Joint Computer Conferences (FJCC, SJCC), subsequently replaced by the National Computing Conference (NCC). These conferences provided significant income to the sponsors. Consequently, the resources provided the opportunity to devote funds to curriculum development as well as establishing a variety of other activities.

The computing disciplines began to associate themselves with schools of arts and sciences, engineering, and business. For many years, these were areas with limited cooperation and in fact, academics often sighted them as examples of cultural differences in the university communities. As such, the background and development of CSAB represents an interesting case study showing how quite different academic programs could benefit from interdisciplinary activities and that such activities are indeed necessary for success.



As the 1970s headed to their conclusion, a number of things were happening in computing education. The number of computing programs was expanding almost exponentially and institutions were trying very hard to hire new faculty members to teach this new field. Since there were not enough graduates available at the time, this became highly competitive, and quite often, universities would hire marginally qualified individuals to fill the void and would offer programs with limited resources. This in turn resulted in a wide variation in program quality, which was often difficult for the public to evaluate.

ABET decided that it was not interested at that point in moving into the accreditation of computer science programs, although it was clearly interested in computer engineering. The 1976 publication of a model program in computer science and engineering [18] by the IEEE/CS provided a clear framework for accreditation criteria for computer engineering as such programs appeared in schools of engineering. Additionally, there existed a number of movements to better define computing as a profession, both as it existed in an engineering context and how it existed elsewhere in academia. As a result, there was increasing interest to look toward computing program accreditation where the programs were different from, or not housed in engineering.

ACM established a committee to investigate accreditation of computing programs exclusive of engineering. Gordon Stokes, then at Brigham Young University, chaired this committee [19]. Though the study went on for about three years, no result was forthcoming.

In 1978, ACM published Curriculum'78 [20]. As the name implies, this report was the follow up and update of Curriculum'68. With these curriculum projects ongoing, the educational units of the IEEE/CS and ACM decided it might be useful to have at least liaisons between their education projects. This activity led to an immediate recognition of the appropriate commonality regarding education issues addressed by the two organizations, and indeed, it fostered a significant level of cooperation that continues to this time.



As mentioned, ABET decided to bypass computing accreditation beyond engineering. This action coupled with the recognition of the need to have computing accreditation to ensure a consistent level of quality in fast developing programs, the IEEE/CS and ACM formed a joint committee to investigate the possibility of an independent accreditation agency sponsored by the two societies through an independent corporation that would look much like ABET. Michael Mulder, and later Taylor Booth from the IEEE/CS and David Kniefel from ACM co-chaired the committee. The joint task force completed its work with the creation and incorporation of CSAB (then the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board) in 1984 at the National Computer Conference in Las Vegas. The structure selected was similar to ABET with a variety of commissions. However, CSAB established only one commission, the Computer Science Accreditation Commission (CSAC), at that time. The CSAB office was located within the ABET offices at the United Engineering Building in New York with Claud Beckham serving as Executive Director. Mr. Beckham remained an ABET employee working for CSAB under a contract with ABET. Over the next twenty-five years, both the ACM and the IEEE/CS helped underwrite the original operations of CSAB. The first accreditation visits by CSAB were conducted in academic year 1985–86. The number of accredited programs increased to 120 by 1993.

While the CSAB Board of Directors was the administrative arm of the organization, CSAC served as the action arm. CSAC consisted of all the team chairs for each visit that occurred in a given year and public representatives. CSAC assumed the responsibility for forming the accreditation teams and assigning them to institutional visits. The typical team consisted of a team chair and two program evaluators that would perform the campus visits and develop a recommendation, with supporting report, for an accreditation recommendation taken by the team. The team chair brought this information to the annual meeting of CSAC, which typically occurred in July. The entire commission considered all recommended actions (to accredit or not to accredit); in turn, it recommended them for endorsement and the bestowing of accredited status to CSAB for the final accreditation action. CSAC also had responsibility for initiating and maintaining the accreditation criteria, upon which were based the final accreditation actions. This structure was maintained until the integration of CSAB and ABET.

Two primary groups provided some opposition to CSAB. The first were the major universities in the United States that primarily did not want to see program accreditation expanding beyond the “recognized” professional field. The second group was the smaller liberal arts colleges that did not feel that accreditation was appropriate for their kind of institutions.

The number of accredited programs continued to expand through the 1990s with an objective set to have two hundred accredited computer science programs by the year 2000. Through this period, expanding accreditation to other computing disciplines reminded under consideration, but not implemented.

Mr. Beckham retired in 1987 and Tom Phillips, also an ABET employee on contract, replaced him. Patrick LaMalva, who was the first CSAB employee, replaced Mr. Phillips. By the end of 1991, CSAB had decided to leave its shared office facilities with ABET when ABET decided to move from New York to Baltimore. At that point, CSAB located its operations in Stamford, Connecticut.



With the growth in accredited programs, an issue arose regarding the jurisdiction of programs with both computer science and engineering in their title. The decision, to comply with the requests of the Council on Postsecondary Accreditation (COPA), was that programs named “computer science and engineering” required separate accreditations by CSAB for computer science and by ABET for computer engineering. This implied that there would have to be two accrediting teams making separate visits and taking separate actions. This presented problems for such programs, and even caused several programs to consider renaming themselves.

To address this issue, the ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) Chair, Edward Parish, and the CSAB President, Willis King, convened a meeting in New York in 1994 to discuss possible solutions. The result of the meeting was to allow the teams from ABET and CSAB to visit at the same time in what amounted to a joint visit. Concurrently, an ad hoc committee was formed to develop a more reasonable long-term solution. This committee finally concluded that the best approach would be to integrate CSAB with ABET and recommended this to the organizations.

The initial objective of a possible integration between CSAB and ABET was to bring all of computing under one commission. Additionally, it was expected that this action would help manage the cost of CSAB activities, manage the cost of accreditation to the sponsoring societies and institutions, create a clear home for emerging computing disciplines, and provide a true integration of the two organizations.

Discussion of a unification proposal continued until October of 1998 when CSAB and ABET signed a Memorandum of Understanding to “integrate” their activities. The critical results were that computer engineering and software engineering (at that point EAC programs with IEEE as the lead society) would remain in the EAC. However, the memorandum stipulated that CSAB would be lead society for software engineering with IEEE a cooperating society; IEEE would remain lead society for computer engineering with CSAB as cooperating society. The agreement allowed CSAB to become a member society of ABET and CSAB would have at least two member representatives on the ABET board of directors. Furthermore, ABET would establish a new commission that initially would only deal with computer science programs. This Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC) would be a transformation of the CSAC of CSAB. The CAC would be responsible for the accreditation of computer science, information systems, and other computer-related programs such as information technology. Additionally, ABET would change its name from Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology to simply ABET Inc.; CSAB would change its name from Computing Sciences Accreditation Board to CSAB Inc. Legally, the two organizations completed the transition in 2001; the mechanics of the integration were resolved in the early 2000s.



Following the integration of the two organizations, CSAB, in terms of the number of programs for which has responsibility had grown significantly. In 2008, more than three hundred computing programs achieved accreditation. Indeed, CSAB represents one of the four largest organizations, by number of accredited programs, within ABET. In 2004, the Association for Information Systems (AIS) became a member of CSAB, bringing that expertise and support to the organization. During this period, CSAB became the lead society for new programs in information systems and information technology, which became the responsibility of the Computing Accreditation Commission.

While the integration accomplished much within its first five years, a review indicated that the action did not meet all of its initial objectives. The integration did not provide “single home” for computing accreditation and it did not achieve cost containment for CSAB and its member societies. Some of this disappointment was due to significantly expanded responsibilities of CSAB for programs within ABET. Furthermore, the accreditation process had moved significantly away from being a strongly volunteer organization to a more staff-driven one, which in turn may have had a negative effect on volunteer involvement.



While it is anticipated that CSAB would remain an active participant in the accreditation process, a number of issues appear on the horizon that may affect its role. There is a “new world” of computing and many computer professional organizations. This may result in fewer and less engaged volunteers. Since most of these institutions are international in scope, they could bring general accreditation activities into question. Interdisciplinary programs have always been a part of the CSAB culture, but the level at which new interdisciplinary programs are emerging could create real problems to which accrediting bodies will have to react. The relatively large societies that have supported CSAB with their reliance on publications, conferences, and membership to support their activities may themselves be at risk as the traditional product activities change.

CSAB has done much in the last twenty-five years to improve the quality and consistency of academic program in computing in the United States. It has proved to be an organization that is able to adjust and adapt to the needs of its constituents. This is only possible by the significant contributions of both its member societies and its many volunteers. The volunteer and staff leadership appear in Appendix B, C, and D. Also essential to the success of the organization were the hundreds of volunteer accreditation team chairs and program evaluators who made the accreditation system work. Space limitations unfortunately prevent us from listing them all here. The contribution of all these volunteers represents a major contribution to the computing professions. It is our hope that CSAB will be able to continue this tradition for many years to come.


(Taken from

Accreditation Defined Council for Higher Education Accreditation

Talking Points Accreditation, Students and Society(February 2009)

What Accreditation Is

Accreditation is the primary means of assuring and improving the quality of higher education institutions and programs in the United States. Active for the past 100 years, this private, voluntary system of self-examination and peer review has been central to the creation of a U.S. higher education enterprise that is outstanding in many respects.

Ten Ways in Which Accreditation Serves Students, Society and the Public Interest

Accreditation is

  1. The primary public symbol of legitimate higher education for over 100 years
    • A key litmus test of threshold academic quality
    • 7,000 higher education institutions and more than 19,000 programs are accredited
  2. The primary “reliable authority” for federal and state governments funding for higher education
    • Accreditation required for student access to federal and state grants and loans
    • Accreditation required for institution and program access to
    • Other federal funds for research and programs and
    • State funds for operating
  3. The primary reliable authority for private sector financial support for higher education
    • Accreditation required to obtain private foundation support
    • Accreditation required to obtain corporate support: gifts, research and tuition assistance
  4. A major source of protection against fraud and abuse for students and consumers
    • Primary bulwark against degree mills and accreditation mills
  5. Successful in encouraging major innovation while maintaining quality over the years, such as
    • The development of community colleges
    • The advent of distance learning
    • The growth of for-profit higher education
  6. Cost-efficient in the use of resources to achieve its
    • Expended more than $92 million in 2006–2007
    • Operated 80 recognized accrediting organizations with 650 full- and part-time staff
    • Involved more than 18,000 volunteers
    • Took major action with regard to approximately 2,495 institutions and 3,965 programs
  7. Central to states carrying out licensure of the professions
    • Many states require that professional programs are accredited
    • Many states require that individuals who sit for licensure examinations in the professions have graduated from accredited programs
  8. Essential to international mobility
    • Vital to international students, governments and higher education institutions for
    • Judgments about transfer of credit
    • Judgments about recognition of qualifications and degrees
    • Judgments about entry to U.S. higher education from other countries
  9. Responsive to current climate of accountability
    • Equipped to meet current challenges
    • Significant progress with student learning outcomes
    • Significant progress with institutional performance
    • Major progress in greater transparency
    • Major progress with transfer of credit
  10. Vital to maintaining key features of higher education that have contributed to the enterprise as among the best in the world
    • A diverse array of institutions
    • A mission-based system
    • Responsible institutional independence for academic judgment
    • Responsible academic freedom

Accreditation is

  • A highly successful and well-tested system of quality assurance and quality improvement
  • An outstanding example of an effective public-private partnership
  • An outstanding example of reliable and responsible self-regulation


Table 1
Table 1 CSAB Officers


Table 2
Table 2 CSAC Executive Directors


Table 3
Table 3 CSAC Chairs


We acknowledge two organizations that helped make this work and its presentation possible. G. Engel thanks the University of Connecticut for its partial support; J. Impagliazzo thanks the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) for its partial support.


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Gerald Engel

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John Impagliazzo

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Patrick LaMalva

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