5 Things You Need to Remember About Accreditation in the Age of COVID-19

Quality assurance — to me, that’s what accreditation is.

It’s not compliance work or regulatory mandates, it’s about ensuring quality operations guided by a student-oriented purpose.

Accreditation can be what people hope is in place to ensure and justify the cost, time spent, and resources necessary to earn a degree. It may be viewed as proof of purpose and outcomes.

Given all of the recent operational shifts and continued scrutiny of higher education’s return on investment, quality assurance is perhaps now more relevant than ever before. 

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Temporary pandemic plans can carry requirements for reporting or adjusted operational standards to uphold. Additionally, with 2020 being a presidential election year, there is also the likelihood of regulations and policies changing, which could bring about new requirements and needs. 

While that may sound worrisome, I have two pieces of good news. First, having written before about the joy and benefits of engaging in accreditation work, I want to reiterate that if institutions hire qualified employees who do their jobs as they should and people keep evidence of continuous quality improvement efforts, they’ll likely address 95% of accreditation needs. 

Second, I’m going to share with you five tips to make addressing quality assurance easy. These tips are heavily inspired by the guiding values of the Higher Learning Commission, a regional accreditor. 

The 5 Ps ofAccreditation

1. Place students at the center of all that you do

As you probably well know, institutions should be focusing first and foremost on students

Instead of thinking of processes or departments, we should start with students and figure out the rest from there. A core tenet of quality assurance is to be sure institutions are doing right by and striving to best meet the needs of students. So, instead of thinking about what programs or resources are staff favorites or traditions, prioritize students’ needs and wants to help shape your strategy.

2. Prepare students to contribute to communities

Higher education is not just about helping students obtain a degree; we also aim to prepare them to contribute to their communities.

Higher education has the potential to transform students’ lives and, in doing so, deliver on its public purpose role. We should be taking that seriously and striving to make as positive an impact as possible.

We can start by asking questions like these: 

  • Are our services current and relevant to students? 
  • Are our interventions affording students the use of workplace-related technology and tools?
  • Are we providing and supporting diverse interactions as preparation for a global economy and workforce? 

These may be questions some functional areas have answered, but all services and areas at the institution need to be making sure they are doing their part in preparing students for success beyond graduation.  

3. Provide a process for institutional betterment

Institutions should have a culture that encourages continuous improvement. Just like with assessment, there should be a continual focus on ensuring quality by way of efficiency and effectiveness of operations.

This is why processes with checks and balances across and between areas should exist, enabling offices and departments to benefit from complementary perspectives. Documentation becomes a critical component to help make processes easy to understand and follow, as well as provide evidence of improvements and actions for betterment.  

4. Practice integrity through demonstrated transparency

In delivering on promises to students and ensuring quality, institutions can demonstrate the integrity of their work through transparency. Internally, this can stem from sharing information via emails and newsletters, in meetings, and through marketing campaigns.

And externally, it can involve posting information on the institution’s website, presenting at conferences; and writing blogs or articles to share information about processes, outcomes, and efforts toward improvement.

5. Prioritize building and maintaining a sustainable environment

Part of each of these efforts – and important to accreditation – is ensuring the work and institutional environment is sustainable. This comes through making sure every staff member collaborates and engages in quality work, centering students, and making process documentation a standard operating procedure. 

Ensure that your resource allocation aligns with institutional priorities to best serve students. Part of your continuous improvement efforts should focus on efficiency and responsible stewardship for resources and processes. 

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It may feel or seem like a lot but please don’t get overwhelmed.

Focus on doing good work and being consistent in working toward continuous improvement and doing what’s best for students. If you do that – and keep documentation of your work – you’ll take care of the majority of what accreditors need to see. Because accreditation visits and reports are periodic in nature, (sometimes with years in between) keep your focus on betterment and students in order to sustain the right priorities.

What questions do you still have about accreditation in the age of COVID-19? Connect with us @HelloPresence and @JoeBooksLevy.

Joe Levy

About the author: Joe Levy is the Executive Director of Assessment and Accreditation at National Louis University. Joe is passionate about data-informed decision making, accountability, and promoting a student-centered approach inside and outside of the classroom. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBooksLevy! Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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