I had the opportunity to present a webinar to the members of OCAIR (Overseas Chinese Association for Institutional Research, https://ocair.org/). The topic was “Institutional Effectiveness in Higher Education: A Nationwide Perspective”. In the webinar, I compared and contrasted how institutional effectiveness is discussed in the standards and principles of the seven regional accrediting agencies in the United States.
Let’s begin by talking about what the regions have in common. They all address institutional effectiveness in multiple standards, although the number of standards varies from region to region. In all regions, resource allocation decisions (i.e., budgeting decisions) are expected to be aligned with the mission of the institution, and with plans for improvement. At the institutional level, each of the seven regions expects an institution to set and meet goals (usually related to student retention rates, graduation rates, and other high-level metrics) and also expects institutions to have plans in place for continuous improvement related to these goals.
Within an institution, at the level of individual departments and programs, each of the regions expects individual academic programs (for example, “the Bookkeeping Certificate,” or “the Bachelor of Science in Biology”) to identify and assess student learning outcomes. All regional accreditors require student learning outcomes to be established and assessed for each academic program at an institution; in most cases, the expectation is that assessment results are used for continuous improvement (in other words, we need to move beyond simply assessing learning – we need to focus on how we are using what we learned from our assessment activities).
Each of the seven regional accreditors also states expectations regarding student support services; student support services are expected to have outcomes (when appropriate, outcomes related to student learning) and, in most cases (six out of seven regional accreditors) assessment of these outcomes is expected to lead to continuous improvement just as in the academic programs.
Disclaimer: each of the seven regional accrediting agencies has a complex set of accreditation standards that are intended to apply to the subtleties of a diverse set of institutions of higher education. For the purposes of this post, I am approaching these standards from a rather abstract perspective. If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to review the standards from each regional accreditor; each agency makes its standards available for free download.