Regardless of the emergency situation, whether it be COVID-19 lockdown, inclement weather, or any other issue which prevents face-to-face collaboration on a campus, preparing for accreditation does not stop.
Institutional personnel are still required to prepare narratives, provide evidentiary support and transmit reports to external agencies. Accreditors, including SACSCOC, HLC, and MSCHE, have already announced the cancellation of onsite team visits for the immediate future due to COVID-19. Even though those visits have been curtailed, institutions must continue to prepare in anticipation of restrictions lifting without much warning.
Preparing the accreditation report is a collaborative effort that requires input from a broad spectrum of the institutional community – academic affairs, planning, finance, human resources, student support services, government liaison, oversight board. Managing report writing and documentation of activities from such disparate groups calls for careful direction from a coordinator or coordinating team and availability of an online platform accessible to every participant in the writing process. These participants must be able to access the platform 365/24/7 from any location and also be able to integrate material from other electronic sources for support documents.
A cloud-based platform such as SPOL allows for such processing with team access to planning, budget, assessment, and credentialing modules which link narrative reports and documents to accreditation reports. Although an external agency may require report submission to its own portal, institutions can still develop their narratives and store evidence in SPOL’s Accreditation module to ensure review by campus directors and approval by administrators before final transmission.
Assigning responsibility for standards to remote users is essential for creating an atmosphere of accountability. Working team members can have limited or broad access to standards as necessary, with some members focusing on writing narratives while others edit those drafts and others give final approval to the complete standard package. Since the platform can be accessed by an unlimited number of users simultaneously, the online collaborative process is not held up by having to find physical meeting spaces or creating narratives external to the platform. All work can be accomplished easily and quickly in one space, and reports developed in other available modules can be linked at any time to any standard. Responsibility can be given to individuals or teams per standard, and all work can be viewed collaboratively using a product such as Zoom if needed.
Proper documentation – the evidence that what you said you did actually occurred – is essential for any accreditation report, and the right platform should give the working group the ability to upload, review, and, if necessary, delete documents in a variety of formats, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Creating a style guide for document naming conventions is another essential component of the process, and the file names should be recognizable instantly not only to the working group members but also to the external reviewers. A platform such as SPOL should be able to upload a single-source document which can then be assigned to multiple standards, thus avoiding uploading two conflicting documents which would damage the institution’s case for reaffirmation. The platform should also be able to upload multiple documents at one time and store those documents for future use by any working team reporting to any agency.
What will the accreditation process be like in the months and years to come? We’d love to hear how your institution is proactively preparing for reaffirmation.