Four Tips for Acing Your Accreditation Site Visit

As an associate vice president at the University of Utah, part of my job is to oversee the continuing and distance education programs for the university, including accreditation visits from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

With state and federal governments putting more and more emphasis on assessment and learning outcomes, these new-style accreditation review processes can be grueling, to say the least. Here are a few valuable tips to help ensure a successful accreditation visit.

1. Focus on the self-study. The heavy lifting is in the preparation of the self-study, and the number one job is to convince the site visit team that you are in compliance with all of the standards it lays out. What I encourage people to do is to make it easy for them. Instead of writing a long narrative and expecting the site team to find where you indicated that you are in compliance with a particular standard, construct a document where you write out each standard and then describe how you’re in compliance with it.

2. Demonstrate a commitment to improvement. Knowing that assessment was a strong point of interest, when we prepared our self-study we created separate text boxes that featured anecdotes or other bits of data about how a particular assessment led to changes that increased the quality of our program. We labeled these boxes ‘Closing the Loop’ and they effectively demonstrated how serious we are about assessment, and how we’re using assessment results to make improvements.

3. Schedule every minute. Don’t leave the accreditation team with time on it hands. Our team was here for two full days, and we made sure that when they arrived on campus each member of the self-study team was given a schedule that kept our visitors busy every single minute.

At some schools, the team gets off the plane and the people from the school ask them ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ Don’t give them an opportunity to set the agenda. You need to be thorough in what you show them and let them ask probing questions, but don’t leave it up to them to determine the schedule.

4. Make them comfortable. We transformed an area of our student union into the team’s home base for meeting and working. We had the room fully outfitted with computers, printers, faxes and phones, and brought in food all day long. They appreciated having a comfortable place to do their jobs.

Chuck Wight, PhD, is an associate vice president at the University of Utah.

Adapted from Eight Ways to Ace Your Accreditation Site Visit, Distance Education Report, July 15, 2007.