I just recently completed being the first reviewer of the periodic update prepared for an institution’s regional accreditor. I was also the second reviewer for another institution in this geographic area. And, in addition, I was very involved in preparing our own periodic review which was due at the same time. Overall, I have been involved with the regional accreditation and the regional accrediting agency for decades.
On multiple occasions, I have indicated that I am very supportive of accreditation, both at the program level as well as the school, college, or institutional level. My first experience with institutional accreditation was when I was serving as associate provost and my initial involvement with program accreditation was during the time that I served as business school dean. During those years, I went on multiple accreditation visits and also served on the initial accreditation committee. The experience was very positive and, to this day, I have great respect for the business school deans I served with and the professional staff of the organization. More recently, I have served on the reaccreditation teams for multiple law schools, with once again tremendous respect for my colleagues on these teams.
My experience with the receiving end of program accreditation is extremely broad. With over 20 academic accreditations on campus, I have been involved with all of them. I read all the reports before they are submitted and meet with visiting team members to answer their institution or program related questions. Here, too, I greatly respect the work and dedication of these volunteers as they assess and verify educational quality.
Accreditation is another layer of accountability, review, and scrutiny by peers in the field. The self-study often provides the comprehensive opportunity for review and self-reflection. Often, areas of need are clearly identified and addressed quickly at this stage of the process. The visiting team provides that third party look and verification of the quality of what’s happening. It all makes a positive difference.
I am even very supportive of all the efforts that have been made in outcomes assessment. Higher education, for many years, stated outcomes’ conclusions without any back up. It was the ultimate “trust me” situation. Now we are providing very sophisticated analysis of outcomes and reviewers are looking at this with great care. I, for one, very much appreciate the effort expended to prove the outcomes are all real. Students are clearly the beneficiaries of these efforts.
I realize that all of this comes with a cost. The time involved in accreditation is scarce time and comes at the expense of other (hopefully) lower priorities. And there is a general resource cost as well. I wouldn’t, however, change the system. I think we do well in terms of quality control; we do well in terms of broad based participation in these activities. Ultimately we facilitate the continuous improvement we are all committed to.