All institutions understand that accreditors play a key role in their very existence. Through United States Department of Education recognized accreditors, institutions have access to Title IV funds, NIH, and NSF funding. However, there is more to the mission of accreditors beyond access to federal dollars through compliance with USDE regulations. They also are committed to the development of standards that support excellence in education. This bifurcated role is apparent in accreditors’ mission statements such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education MSCHE:
“The Middle States Commission on Higher Education assures students and the public of the educational quality of higher education. The Commission’s accreditation process ensures institutional accountability, self-appraisal, improvement, and innovation through peer review and the rigorous application of standards within the context of institutional mission.”
This commitment to foster excellence is found in specialized, professional accreditors as well such as expressed in the CEPH mission statement:
“CEPH assures quality in public health education and training to achieve excellence in practice, research and service, through collaboration with organizational and community partners.”
If we accept that accreditors are about more than compliance – that they are looking for quality in education as well, then a natural question for those seeking accreditation is: What do these accreditors consider quality in higher education? That is one question that has been at the heart of the Conversation with Accreditors panel sessions that I have hosted for six years at the annual conference for the Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education AALHE.
It was after the 2019 Conversation with Accreditors panel session that fellow board member and fellow past-president of AALHE, Dr. Tara Rose, suggested we meet to discuss how we might collect specific examples of what accreditors deem to be quality educational activities. We really did not know if accreditors would agree to call out specific institutions for their excellent work in assessment. However, from our discussions with all of the former regional accreditors and several professional accreditors, we learned that they saw the value in providing exemplars that might guide and inspire other institutions.
From concept to publication co-editor Dr. Tara Rose and I spent two years developing this book, Exemplars of Assessment in Higher EducationDiverse Approaches to Addressing Accreditation Standards, which we believe to be an excellent resource across the range of institutional types. We are grateful to, and inspired by, the authors from the 24 diverse institutions who generously shared their work. We also want to express deep appreciation to the 12 accrediting bodies that suggested these exemplars to us.
Personally, I have to say that this work has been a labor of love. I have served as a peer reviewer for four accrediting bodies since 2010. I have a deep respect for the mission of accreditation and truly enjoyed this opportunity to validate that accreditors are not prescriptive in how institutions achieve quality improvement. As the contributing authors have shown, accreditors respect creative and innovative ways for institutions to demonstrate quality in assessment.
I invite you to register and join Dr. Rose and me for a special community event on Thursday, July 29, 2021, Lightning Talk Series— Author Spotlight: “Exemplars of Assessment in Higher Education—Diverse Approaches to Addressing Accreditation Standards” where we unpack some of our favorite parts of the book and pragmatic examples from the field for you to consider as you plan your own continuous improvement process.