Burning Questions about Accreditation

March
2007
Janet Fulks, Executive Committee

What is happening with your campus and Accreditation?

When does your campus have their next accreditation site visit? This may not be the every-six-year visit traditionally associated with accreditation under the previous standards. In addition to the usual progress and midterm reports, the Academic Senate's inaugural Accreditation Institute, held in San Francisco last January, revealed that a growing number of colleges are busily planning for progress visits. Just as in the past, all of us are expected to use self studies and accreditation recommendations to improve our schools. However, with Student Learning Outcomes (SLO) assessment and the need to create an on-going reflective, improvement cycle in the new standards, colleges are realizing that accreditation never ends.

What authority and responsibility do local senates have in the accreditation process?

The Accreditation Institute presented several workshops that discussed how the accreditation process must have substantial faculty involvement and also brainstormed methods to help local senates to make this happen. Local faculty authority in academic and professional matters is founded in the legislative intent language of Assembly Bill 1725, in Education Code and Title 5. Consider the typical tenure of administrators in your institution. Faculty, often with more longevity in an institution, know its history and its students, understand the campus potential for improvement, and have a vested interest in the outcome and changes a self study can promote. Yet they often fail to participate in the rigorous self-study process.

Are the new accreditation standards really any different than what we have done before?

The three strands of workshops presented during the Accreditation Institute explored the impact of the new standards. Across the United States, the standards for all regional accreditation agencies focus more specifically upon student learning than the previous ones. The centrality of learning to our mission is front and center in all regional accrediting bodies' standards of institutional quality assurance. Institutions are expected to define learning outcomes and show evidence that they are actively involved in assessing those learning outcomes. This emphasis makes faculty involvement and expertise essential. Local senates play a crucial role in helping this new thread develop, as well as serving as one of the important sources of campus dialogue, another new crucial element in the 2002 standards.

What is the Academic Senate doing to help equip faculty for the accreditation process?

Two years ago, the Academic Senate created the Accreditation Ad Hoc Committee both to assist Compton College and to provide more general assistance with accreditation issues. In an effort to inform and enable greater faculty involvement in the accreditation process, the committee founded and hosted the Academic Senate's first Accreditation Institute in San Francisco this January, established a listserv and is developing a training process for Student Learning Outcomes coordinators.

Student Learning Outcomes (SLO) Coordinator Survey

The SLO Coordinator survey provided information concerning California community college student learning outcomes status around the state. One finding of particular concern related to the appointment of SLO coordinators, a position intimately entwined with faculty responsibility concerning curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. A significant nu ber of the 63 SLO coordinator respondents were appointed only by Administrators (18 of the 63). Fourteen could not identify their appointment or felt the appointment was unique or individualized. Some SLO coordinators were volunteers or evolved into the position by default (11 of the 63). Only ten were appointed by local senates alone, while others absorbed the job as part of another task force or committee appointment (8 of 63). Sadly, only two were the product of a cooperative appointment by the senate and the administration. Imagine if this confusion existed when defining and appointing a Curriculum Chair?

There were many SLO coordinators who reported there was no process or job description for their position. Most were anxious to meet others in their position and to get training. The Academic Senate is acutely aware of these needs and has planned a series of training opportunities and papers addressing the needs of SLO coordinators. These activities begin with SLO Coordinators Regional Meetings in Northern California, March 30 10:00-2:30 at Mission College in Santa Clara; and in Southern California, April 13 10:00-2:30 at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga. The next activity is an SLO Institute that will take place the day prior to the Curriculum Institute (Wednesday July 11) in San Diego. Many other events, such as the Center for Student Success Strengthening Student Success conference in October and another Academic Senate Accreditation Institute, are planned to support and train SLO coordinators and senates on these new issues.

The Academic Senate believes that faculty involvement in SLO s and Accreditation is essential. These are powerful tools for shaping our institutions, our instruction, and our students' success.

More on the ASCCC Accreditation Institute 2007

The Academic Senate presented the first ever Accreditation Institute in January 2007. This institute marked a new opportunity for dialogue between Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) representatives, college/district administrators, and faculty about the new standards. In addition, it provided training in Student Learning Outcome (SLO ) assessment and stimulating dialogue about the important role faculty and local senates play in accreditation processes. This year's program included three strands.

The Pragmatics Strand was designed to help institutions meet some of the major changes implemented by the 2002 ACCJC standards including student learning outcomes, program review, and outcomes and assessment practices that affect the institution as a whole (course and program; student services, library, and supplemental instruction). The Effective Practices Strand dealt with the particulars of the four new standards, elaborating on each, linking them to equity and diversity planning, and developing a best and worst list of self study practices. The Political Realities Strand examined the accreditation movement with regards to local and global implications and explored accountability and political issues infused into the accreditation process.

Several helpful resources were identified for the conference:

  • This California Community College Chief Business Officer website http://www.leftcoastsoftware.com/AccredData. Html#SelfStudy will provide you with links to individual college self-study reports (check the dates-they are not all recent), survey questions, and accreditation recommendations associated with those reports.
  • A list of Do's and Don'ts were collected from a variety of attendees; they highlight helpful practices and the potholes to avoid.
  • A Student Learning Outcomes coordinator's survey was distributed and plans for regional meetings and the first Student Learning Outcomes Institute were hatched.
  • "Regional Accreditation and Student Learning: A Guide for Institutions and Evaluators," a publication by the regional accrediting bodies, was made available to Institute attendees and is available through ACCJC.

Accreditation Do's And Don'ts

Do's

  • Start early enough to guarantee a well-researched, evidence-based document
  • BEGIN with the last focused mid-term report
  • REVIEW prior institutional goals
  • SET a reasonable timeline
  • READ other institutional studies
  • CONVERSE widely
  • GATHER statements from a variety of sources
  • BE IN CLUSIVE -Include all departments & divisions in the process
  • WORK hard to have representatives from all constituencies-classified, students, faculty, administration, community-on each sub-standard
  • USE existing governance committees to write reports-they are invested and can implement the planning agenda
  • PAY attention to interpersonal relationships and try to avoid personality-based problems
  • Include a broad group of individuals on the steering committee and assure they all attend
  • KEEP copious notes that are sensitive to "what if" scenarios and creative digressions
  • SEEK evidence
  • USE the System Office website for data
  • Be constructive
  • DELEGATE and distribute profusely
  • CONSTRUCT steps to solutions, search other's solutions, and make doable solutions for your campus Prioritize solutions with the widest impact
  • ASK questions about data
  • BE honest
  • MAKE assessments based on credible evidence
  • GET support for incentives
  • HAVE fun along the way
  • EVALUATE ALL student services
  • KEEP copies of reports in the library i.e. involve the library in campus history
  • CREATE a format and logic for the report
  • CREATE a succinctly written self study
  • CREATE clear intent

Don't's

  • Don't wait until the accreditation visit is 12-18 months out. This is systematic stuff and the team can identify last minute efforts
  • Don't waste time by not planning
  • Don't create plans you can not implement or sustain
  • Don't create all new committees
  • Don't rely on one or two self-study creators
  • Don't forget themes and dialogue
  • Don't belabor the obvious
  • Don't include negative or positive information to the exclusion of the other
  • Don't "give in" to pressure to make changes that do not represent the truths
  • Don't have a single standard dominated by one constituent group
  • Don't blather, brag, rant, whine or dig up controversial slime
  • Don't write what someone else tells you for the sake of conformity
  • Don't exclude vital information because you believe it will embarrass someone
  • Don't seek to address personalized wrongs
  • Don't obscurely obfuscate
  • Don't be the ONE who does everything
  • Don't try to address EVERYTHING
  • Don't let administrators substantively change the work of the standards committees
  • Don't conjecture
  • Don't include too much or too little
  • Don't ignore physical facilities
  • Don't forget about balance
  • Don't wait till the last minute to organize evidence
  • Don't bluff about things you have no evidence for
  • Don't assume someone else will do the work
  • Don't abdicate this opportunity for self evaluation and change
  • Don't underestimate the time this takes
  • Don't discount any individual's input
  • Don't hope it will go away

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.