Colleges and universities are returning to in-person attendance, but even this return to ‘normal’ brings many challenges. From adapting successful digital learning strategies to catching up on lost revenue from decreases in enrollment, these challenges are playing into larger concerns about the longevity, or even survival, of many colleges and universities. At the heart of these concerns is the question of whether they can maintain accreditation.
Throughout the pandemic, accrediting bodies have closely monitored the financial stability and growth of colleges and universities. With a growing number of higher education institutions at risk of losing their accreditation or being placed on probation, colleges and universities are looking for ways to improve their assessment processes and ensure that information is accurate and complete prior to submitting to accreditation organizations. To streamline accreditation reporting, more and more institutions are now seeing value in integrating their data and information systems. Efficient data collection can be leveraged to demonstrate continuous growth and improvement.
Michelle Atkins, Assistant Provost for Accreditation and Research at Union University, described what it was like completing a recent reaffirmation report with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). With new administration in place at the university and assessment information spread across Word documents and PDFs, the reporting process was time-consuming and difficult to manage. “I was working 80-hour weeks,” Atkins said.
To improve this process, Union University transitioned its internally-developed system to an integrated assessment and accreditation management platform that centralizes planning, insights, and program review. A streamlined system for managing the accreditation reporting process has given Union University the ability to pull consistent data without increasing administrative burden on department chairs, faculty, and staff.
Because lack of communication has historically created tension between administrators and faculty, schools must also find ways to enhance communication and prevent high faculty turnover rates. Struggles with faculty recruitment and retention can hamper accurate and consistent flow of data and information, limit resources, and ultimately, take a toll on student enrollment rates and consistent revenue streams. A new data solution that manages assessment and accreditation needs can map goals and house annual assessment plans, which can foster deeper discussion among the faculty involved.
Union University’s new system has led to a new culture of engagement where faculty are entering their assessment data annually. “We are building a culture of continuous improvement. We don’t do this because SACSCOC tells us to; we do this because we have core values at this institution,” Atkins said. Nevertheless, this culture shift is integral to maintaining accreditation, as colleges and universities must demonstrate strong systems of shared governance to accrediting agencies.
This academic year has felt transitional for many colleges and universities that have spent the last year navigating campus closures and online classrooms while trying to keep enrollment rates steady. Integrated data solutions help build engagement with faculty, which is key to creating a culture where faculty members recognize the benefit in tracking outcomes and are proactive in entering assessment data. As unexpected challenges arise, reporting requirements from accrediting agencies will only grow in complexity if institutions haven’t built the culture shift necessary to consistently capture and track their data in one place.
To learn more about how integrating data to streamline assessment processes can drive continuous improvement, download The Essential Guide to Assessment Strategy.
This article was originally published on Today's Modern Educator.
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