Behind the Green Curtain: The Accreditation Visit Unveiled, or Where do Those Accreditation Recommendations Come from Anyway?

Bakersfield College
Riverside City College Accreditation Team Participants

"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"-Wizard of Oz, 1939

You have worked for months to write a gazillion page self-study and to organize your "evidence" and are finally looking forward to the visiting team's arrival. While you may have been involved in the college's previous comprehensive accreditation visit (it's a six-year cycle), many of your colleagues are probably going through this process for the first time and wonder, who is this visiting team anyway? It is made up of our peers: presidents, vice presidents and deans, budget officers, trustees, and faculty. Like some of your faculty peers, some members of the team are probably also first-time participants. While the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) seeks to include faculty on every team, many faculty members hesitate to commit to a process that will require them to be away from their colleges and students from a Monday morning to a Thursday afternoon in October or March. To their credit, members of the visiting team will have spent hours reading and reflecting on your self study before they arrive, and many team chairs ask team members to begin drafting a response to your self study before the team arrives.

After scrutinizing your self-study, reviewing your college online, and reading through any electronic evidence the college has provided, they finally arrive. Their task is to see if what the college wrote in its self-study is supported by the evidence and observable practices at your college. They arrive at mid-day on Monday and spend all day and well into the evening on Tuesday and Wednesday getting to know your college, asking questions, getting to know your faculty, staff, student and administrative leaders and reviewing even more evidence. By the end of the visit, they may know some of your peers better than many faculty members do. Finally on Thursday, there is the exit interview.

If you've attended an exit interview, you know that the issues addressed can be quite wide-ranging. Who decides what to address in the exit interview? By Thursday morning the members of your visiting team have scrutinized many aspects of your college, guided by the ACCJC standards and with members of the team assigned to focus on specific aspects of the standards. The conversations they have had over the previous two-and-a-half days have been guided to some degree by the aspects of your selfstudy that needed closer examination. The members of the team have spent some of their evening hours drafting the committee report and much of Wednesday evening (often into the wee hours of Thursday morning) bringing their observations together into a comprehensive evaluation of your college's weaknesses and strengths. It is important to mention a college's strengths, since most visiting teams recognize that every college does some things exceptionally well.

Like the student who gets a B+, however, faculty often remember only the recommendations that identify weaknesses that colleges must address.

The members of the visiting team meet on Thursday morning on your campus to reach consensus (if possible) regarding the areas in which the Commission should commend the college and those where it should require it to do better-to "meet the standards." This deliberation also includes the team's recommendation to the commission regarding the accreditation status of the college and what follow-up actions should take place prior to the next regular comprehensive visit. It is made very clear to team members that they only make recommendations to the Commission but that it is the Commission itself which decides on the accreditation status of the college and crafts the formal letter which describe commendations and recommendations.

Only after the team has decided on its recommendations does the team chair meet with the college president to provide the courtesy of an indication of what the team will recommend. Finally the exit interview takes place, a collegewide meeting where the team chair provides a summary of what the team has observed. The summary is, at this point, the team's best attempt at a comprehensive evaluation of your college based on the ACCJC's standards.

This is not the end. The report, written collectively by members of the visiting team, is compiled and integrated by the team chair and then sent to team members for additional review. When the team members give the final thumbs up, the report (still a draft!), easily exceeds 50 pages and will be provided to your college president for the opportunity to correct errors of fact. It then finally goes to the Commission. Once it arrives at the Commission, each team report is assigned one primary and two secondary evaluators. At some point during the holidays and again in the spring, each commissioner is visited not by Santa Claus but by Federal Express bringing multiple boxes of college-specific accreditation documents.

The authority on which the final accreditation letter is issued is the Commission, not the visiting team or its chair, and thus the Commission does all that it can to assure that recommendations are based on the Commission's standards and not on the individual agenda of the team chair or members. The Commission will also carefully read the team's recommendation in light of previous Commission recommendations to the college.

A college with a weakness is likely to receive a sterner letter if that deficiency had been noted on previous visits.

The Commission meets in January and June and it is permissible to address the Commission prior to their closed session deliberations as they review and decide on the status of each college they review. Finally the Commission issues the final reports in January and June each year. While these letters come from Commission president Barbara Beno, they represent the decision of the Commission as a whole.

Faculty wishing to learn more about the Academic Senate's positions on accreditation can review the our six adopted papers and our 113 (!) adopted resolutions on accreditation through the Resolutions and Papers search engines on the Senate website.