The accreditation review process may never be stress-free, but with proper preparation you can at least minimize the stress that so often accompanies it. So just how far ahead should you start preparing for your accreditation review? At least two years, according to Belle S. Wheelan, president of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), noting that some schools begin even more than two years out.
In a Jan. 21st online seminar, Preparing for an Accreditation Review at a Community College, Wheelan provided a timeline schools should follow as part of the reaffirmation process, as well as what accreditation teams look for during their site visit. The timeline includes tasks that range from big picture strategies (i.e. making sure everyone at your school understands the process) to tactical mechanics (i.e. providing cell numbers to the on-site committee).
When the Accreditation Review is Two Years Away
- Familiarize yourself with the compliance issues and standards.
- Form a small team to serve as the steering committee.
- Gather institutional family to discuss standards.
- Develop a budget for the entire process, including ongoing assessment, faculty and space needs.
- Identify consultants to assist where needed.
When the Accreditation Review is One-Two Years Away
- Develop and assess student learning.
- Ensure documentation of faculty qualifications.
- Make sure appropriate policies and practices are in place and aligned.
- Begin work on compliance certification (self-study).
When the Accreditation Review is One Year Away
- Finalize any new policies.
- Submit compliance certification (self-study).
- Educate institutional family on the responses provided.
- Plan on-site committee travel and logistics.
When the Accreditation Review is Six-months Away
- Review all documentation submitted.
- Make sure everything is ready for the visit.
- Have contingency plans in case things go wrong with computers, transportation, on-site space etc.
- Make sure the institutional family has a clear understanding of the timeline for follow-up reports.
“The bottom line is if you don’t have a way to identify what you expect students to learn, ways to assess whether they’ve learned them or not, and a process by which changes can be made to tighten that system up, you will not be affirmed because that is one of our core requirements,” says Wheelan.