Many times, when we are examining our institution’s assessment processes, we find ourselves asking the question, “What does our regional accrediting agency expect in terms of our assessment processes?” In some ways, this hearkens back to when we were doing our chores because our parents made us. Mom wants us to wash the dishes…okay, how well does she want them washed? Now, as adults, we don’t wash the dishes “well enough,” we wash the dishes until they’re clean. Similarly, if we approach our assessment processes focused on the external demands, we’re more likely to run into problems down the road. Rather than doing assessment because “the accreditor says so,” far better to focus on the intrinsic motivations for assessment: we want to improve our programs. We want our students to learn and to be successful after they leave the institution.
In general, the regional accreditors all expect institutions to use assessment results in a continuous improvement process: define a target, assess how close we are to target, implement an action plan for continuous improvement, then assess again to see the impact of the action plan. SPOL’s Assessment module can help you to not only track your assessment results over time, but also document your action plans for continuous improvement. The Assessment module integrates with the Planning module, allowing you to flesh out your action plans in detail, and with the Budget module, allowing you to submit budget requests for your action plans.
Some of the regional accreditors have more specific expectations in addition to the general expectation. For example, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE) also expects its institutions to declare their basic approach to assessment. NEASC-CIHE provides four broad alternatives regarding assessment approaches, though institutions can also propose alternative approaches.
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) focuses on organized and systematic assessments with faculty and other professionals evaluating the extent of student achievement of institutional and degree/program goals.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) expects ongoing assessment activities in academic programs and support services. Institutions are charged with defining “programs” locally but are also required to assess general education competencies.
The WASC Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) requires assessment results for student learning outcomes to be disaggregated by student demographics, requires use of assessment results to be built into personnel evaluations, and requires the institution’s Board of Trustees to be engaged in its own continuous improvement processes. As with SACSCOC, these requirements sound like good practice even if they are not explicitly required by your accreditation region.
Finally, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) expects its institutions to identify Core Themes, which are measurable indicators that the institutions are fulfilling their missions. The focus on Core Themes provides a data-driven lens with which to assess the overall effectiveness of an institution. The focus is on appropriate content and rigor that are consistent with the institution’s mission; culminate in achievement of clearly identified student learning outcomes; and lead to collegiate-level degrees or certificates with designators consistent with program content in recognized fields of study.
Regardless of your regional accreditor, SPOL has resources to help you keep your assessment processes on track. Not only does the Assessment module integrate smoothly with Planning, Budget, and Accreditation modules, SPOL has consultants on staff who have worked in higher education and have helped their institutions develop sustainable assessment processes that meet the expectations of regional accreditors.