In the previous posts of this series, I have discussed the importance of accreditation here, as well as the various types of accreditation here.
In this piece, I will dive into the several steps you’ll have to follow as you prepare your college or university for accreditation from start to finish. It’s okay if you’re still currently unsure of which type of accreditation you will seek, or which accrediting agency you will apply to.
From my professional experience, it’s best to prepare yourself with knowledge well in advance so that when the time comes, you’ll be able to make informed decisions and avoid pitfalls and errors that are so common in the accreditation process.
Step 1 - Form an accreditation steering committee
Your first step is to get at least one member per each of the key departments at your institution. These members will regularly meet and discuss the quality of education, policies, and compliance with State regulations. Accreditation steering committees typically consist of at least one key academic leader, one financial leader, an HR rep, compliance personnel, and a student services staff member.
At the start, your committee will meet once a month or so, and you’ll be able to increase the frequency of those meetings as needed. The aim is to collectively brainstorm thoughts and ideas on how to improve the quality of the key components of accreditation like educational programs and policies. Your committee will essentially lead these discussions and implement strategies to prepare well in advance for the accreditation process.
It’s hence crucial to establish this mechanism as the first step in your accreditation journey.
Step 2 - Engage faculty members in an ongoing discussion about academic program objectives and outcomes
Your program leaders and faculty members are some of the key people that an accrediting agency will focus on during the process. Therefore, having them communicate with each other regularly is crucial.
Your staff will participate in an ongoing discussion about the aims and outcomes of your academic programs, even if these have already been successfully defined previously. The goal here is to actively review and compare to what’s being offered by similar programs at other reputable institutions.
What’s important to note here is that accrediting agencies want to see how the changes to academic programs have been implemented by program leaders and faculty members, as opposed to being enforced by the top leadership in the organization.
Step 3 - Develop and enforce an annual Program Review and Analysis policy
This process ties into the previous step. Once you establish regular program reviews by faculty members and program leaders in your institution, you’ll have to put up a policy for everyone to follow.
The policy is needed to enforce your Program Review process. A Program Review is an impartial evaluation of how effectively your academic program is working. It’s conducted by internal members of your institution and external reviewers.
Generally, your policy will address major questions like:
- What are your Faculty’s procedures in regards to planning, reviewing, and monitoring the values of the program?
- How does your Faculty communicate with stakeholders if these procedures are being used?
- Are the procedures and processes effective in meeting the Faculty’s mission, values, and purposes? Are they effective in meeting the evaluation contents and criteria of the program?
- What is the level of the quality of the program and its elements?
- What benchmarks does the program operate?
- What recommendations can be made for the development and improvement of the program, by whom, and within what time frames?
Step 4 - Collect and analyze data and insights from your annual program reviews to make improvements to the programs
The main goal of Program Review is to identify your academic programs’ self-identified areas of strength and improvement, and further work with those by implementing strategies. A follow-up assessment should always be done as part of this process.
Accrediting agencies want to see that you apply continuous improvement methodology in running your institution.
The collected data from your Program Review should highlight things like:
- Key program strengths, and areas of improvement
- Opportunities that may enhance the program, and plans of implementing them
- Identified threats in the Self-Study, and your plan to mitigate them
- A five-year look-back using the insights from the annual program evaluations
- A five-year look-forward to brainstorm on what can take the program to the next level
Step 5 - Review, develop, improve and enforce your policies and procedures
One of the key components of accreditation is being able to successfully enforce established policies and procedures.
Naturally, enforcing your policies and procedures will be performed by a member of staff who is granted this authority. Be it a compliance officer or a director, their role is to ensure your staff is following the written procedures.
This one is important to have in place because if you have laws but you have no enforcement, your laws are rarely going to be followed the way they should. For instance, if you have a student complaint policy, you must have someone that will be able to enforce it by ensuring the exact steps are being followed and the right forms are filed when a student complaint arises. Ideally, you’d have a dedicated compliance officer perform this.
Step 6 - Document your procedures and policies
Your policies and best procedures are non-existent unless you properly document them. This is why having a document record management team in place is crucial.
One of the best ways to document processes that happen in your classrooms is using a learning management system. In addition to that, you’ll have to have an established documenting process.
For instance, minutes should be taken at the end of each meeting that your faculty and administrative staff members gather at. Otherwise, these meetings never happened. When you apply for accreditation, you will provide all this documentation as proof of the fact that your policies and procedures have been adequately followed.
The key takeaway of this piece is how important it is to prepare well in advance for accreditation. This will save you valuable time and resources in the long run. Start your preparations early on, and ensure to follow the accreditation standards of your accrediting body.
Accreditation is all about continuous improvement and quality assurance. Therefore viewing it as a way to improve the quality of education and learning outcomes at your university or college will help you get the most out of it.
After all, the level of teaching is what differentiates one institution from another. The educational knowledge and training your graduating students have will either prove your university or college as reputable or not. Subsequently, this will further affect the flow of prospective students into your institution.
I hope this post serves beneficial to you in your accreditation journey. Planning to open your university? Call or email me now for a no-string-attached free consultation!