For efficient accreditation reporting, a culture shift is necessary

February 26, 2024 Watermark Insights

The challenge

In the years following the onset of COVID-19, colleges and universities are still facing several challenges. From adapting their curriculum to suit in-person and hybrid education to combatting declining enrollment, these challenges are playing into larger concerns about the longevity, or even survival, of many institutions. At the heart of these concerns is the question of whether they can maintain accreditation.

Accrediting bodies closely monitor the financial stability and growth of colleges and universities, and many standards have changed since early 2020. With a growing number of higher education institutions at risk of losing their accreditation or being placed on probation, it’s time to streamline assessment processes and ensure that this essential information is accurate and complete. However navigating outdated software solutions, balancing various stakeholders’ feedback, and establishing a culture of continuous improvement all make achieving effective accreditation reporting a challenge.

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 took time and effort to manage. “I was working 80-hour weeks,” Atkins said.

Let’s explore three tips for efficient accreditation reporting so you can spend less time collecting data, and more time learning from it.

Tip #1: Establish a comprehensive data management system

Word documents, paper files, PDFs, and static spreadsheets are not the ideal state when collecting data. Instead, you need a robust data management system that captures, organizes, and stores all the relevant information needed for accreditation reporting in one centralized location. This system should include data on student outcomes, faculty qualifications, institutional resources, and other key performance indicators.

One of the biggest benefits of a data management system is establishing a single source of truth. Instead of getting different facts and figures from various Word documents and PDFs, every team member will be looking at the same data — updated in real-time. This creates a reliable foundation for accreditation reports and streamlines the reporting process moving forward.

To improve their accreditation reporting process, Union University adopted an integrated assessment and accreditation management platform that centralized planning, insights, and program review. This allowed Union University to pull consistent data without increasing the administrative burden on department chairs, faculty, and staff.

Tip #2: Continuously monitor and assess your data

It isn’t enough to set up a system for data collection, you must continuously monitor and assess this data as well. Embracing this approach is pivotal for institutions seeking to enhance their educational quality and meet accreditation standards. By instilling a commitment to ongoing evaluation, universities can proactively identify areas of improvement, ensuring that they remain in compliance with accreditation requirements.

Continuous monitoring entails regular assessments of key performance indicators, learning outcomes, and institutional processes. This allows institutions to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses, facilitating data-driven decision-making. By addressing concerns as they arise, rather than waiting for the accreditation reporting period, universities can demonstrate a dedication to continuous improvement and elevate the overall quality of education.

Furthermore, the implementation of robust assessment practices contributes to a dynamic and responsive educational environment. It enables faculty and administrators to adapt curricula, teaching methods, and support services based on real-time feedback, fostering an environment where students thrive. This proactive approach not only streamlines the accreditation reporting process but also positions institutions to excel in providing high-quality education that meets or exceeds established standards.

Tip #3: Build a culture of continuous improvement, transparent communication, and collaboration

Because lack of communication has historically created tension between administrators and faculty, schools must find ways to enhance communication. Establishing clear and open channels of communication among various departments and stakeholders ensures that everyone is well-informed and has access to the information required for accreditation reporting. 

Integrated data solutions help build engagement with faculty, which is key to establishing buy-in. It also improves morale among faculty and staff when they are included in process changes, rather than informed of them later. 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.

Accountability is also a cornerstone of successful accreditation reporting. When every member of the institution understands their role and responsibility in the accreditation process, it fosters a sense of ownership and commitment. This shared responsibility not only streamlines the reporting procedures but also enhances the overall effectiveness of the institution, creating an environment where continuous improvement is ingrained in the organizational culture. 

The results

Union University’s new system has led to a 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, and one of them is ‘Excellence-driven.’” Atkins said. This culture shift is integral to maintaining accreditation, as colleges and universities must demonstrate strong systems of shared governance to accrediting agencies.

By implementing these tips, higher education institutions can create a more streamlined and effective accreditation reporting process, leading to improved compliance with standards and a commitment to continuous enhancement of educational quality. 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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