The Self-Study Process in Accreditation
Note: In September 2012 the Commission began a three-year transition during which PEAQ will be replaced by two new Pathways, the Standard Pathway and the Open Pathway. AQIP, which has been in place since 1999, will continue as a third Pathway. This section is addressed to those institutions that are scheduled for PEAQ evaluations in 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15.
PEAQ comprehensive evaluations for reaffirmation of accreditation include two major processes: institutional self-study and peer evaluation. An institution scheduled for accreditation review under PEAQ has the prerogative to plan and conduct the self-study process in a way that leads to its preferred continuous improvement yet still provides evidence to the Commission that it fulfills the Criteria for Accreditation. The institution summarizes its findings in a self-study report, which constitutes formal application for reaffirmation of accreditation and serves as the frame of reference for the review that the evaluation team conducts. (Evaluations for initial and continued candidacy and for initial accreditation also include these two processes.)
While acknowledging the institution’s freedom to create its own self-study design, the Commission believes that certain attributes are essential to a successful self-study process. An effective self-study process
- Fits the distinctive nature of the institution
- Achieves stated goals that guide the design and the conduct of the process
- Ensures effective evaluation of the whole institution
- Promises to have an impact on the institution beyond the Commission visit
- Engages multiple constituencies of the institution
- Builds naturally on existing and ongoing self-evaluation processes
- Has strong presidential and board support
- Draws on the expertise and credibility of recognized leaders throughout the institution
- Maintains regular and effective communication links with institutional constituencies
- Produces evidence to show that the Commission’s Criteria for Accreditation are met
- Produces a self-study report that meets the Commission’s needs
- Testifies to the institution’s commitment to peer review
Practical Advice for Creating and Conducting an Effective Self-Study Process
At each Annual Conference over the past decade, experienced self-study coordinators have served as mentors to those just beginning the self-study process. They have provided excellent practical advice in their meeting presentations and in the papers they wrote for the Collection of Papers on Self-Study and Institutional Improvement. Annual Conference attendees receive a Resource Book that identifies a large number of self-study reports available for review online. The information is also posted on the Commission’s web site.
Make Good Preparations
An effective self-study process builds on the context of the institution and its ongoing planning. The institution’s leadership needs to attend to the following tasks before turning the self-study process over to the steering committee.
- Create the stated institutional goals or outcomes for the process; if there are expected priorities for institutional issues, make them clear.
- Identify anticipated changes or improvements that need to be integrated into the self-study process or the self-study report.
- Make explicit the institution’s values and culture that the self-study process must honor.
- Propose the linkages between the self-study process and ongoing planning endeavors.
- Understand the U.S. Department of Education compliance components of the Commission's accrediting activities.
- Consult with the Commission to determine how the self-study process can be used to meet the objectives of the institution’s leadership.
The leadership should be thoughtful in positioning the steering committee. The leadership may wish to determine the size of the committee in relation to tasks that only the members of the committee can achieve and use a smaller, more efficient committee charged with creating and working with multiple subcommittees or working groups.
Every process needs to ensure that the institution can provide evidence that it fulfills the Criteria for Accreditation. The institution’s leadership and the steering committee must agree on
- Established timelines that fit the time available before the team visit
- The tasks to be done
- The expected outcomes of the process
- The budget for the process
Key Dates in the Self-Study Process
2 years prior to the visit:
- Institution begins preparations and responds to the two-year reminder letter from the Commission
- Commission sends institution a survey on dates for evaluation visit and assigns a date for visit
5-12 months prior to the visit:
- Commission sends a list of proposed team members to institution
8 weeks prior to the visit:
- Institution sends required materials as outlined in Required Materials and Submission Procedures: PEAQ Comprehensive Visit
- Evaluation visit takes place
1-2 months after visit:
- Institution reviews draft report for correction of errors of fact
- Institution reviews final report and provides institutional response
3-6 months after visit:
- Final report, materials, and institutional response move to Institution Actions Council for review and decision.
NOTE: Length of time related to document revision and due process requirements may vary depending on circumstance under review.
Involve the Right People in the Process
The leadership of the institution makes a very critical strategic decision in naming the steering committee and the self-study coordinator(s). The steering committee should include people who are
- Experienced with accreditation, including, if possible, individuals who did it a decade earlier
- Able to focus on the institution, mitigating against silo-thinking
- Recognized for their credibility within the institution
- Highly visible and influential within the institution
Establish and Use Effective Structures, Processes, and Techniques
As the steering committee and coordinators plan for the process ahead of them, they would be well-served by
- Creating structures or processes that involve a broad range of constituencies. These are often subcommittees or small working groups with specific tasks or projects.
- Using technology for data collection, communication, and networking.
- Establishing effective coordination of all processes within the larger self-study process.
- Providing effective data management.
- Overseeing effective use of the budget for the self-study process.
- Creating a process check system.
- Including ways to have fun. This advice is repeated by many experienced coordinators and should not be ignored.
Plan for Writing the Report
In collaboration with the institution’s leadership, the steering committee should define the multiple audiences for the report. While it is obvious that one audience is the Higher Learning Commission (the evaluation team and the participants in subsequent review processes), the institution may also have internal and external uses for the report.
Early in the planning process, the steering committee needs to determine how it will create the self-study report. It is increasingly important for an effective self-study process to culminate in a document that speaks on behalf of the total institution. As the steering committee plans its strategy for creating the report, it should
- Choose one or more writers/editors and clearly define their responsibilities
- Weigh how direct the linkages must be between working papers generated through the process and the self-study report
- Create a time frame for writing, and create strategies for review and revision
- Develop the strategy for providing data in the report
The Self-Study Design
It is important to prepare a self-study design very early in the process. The design should address
- The self-study calendar and timetable
- The institution’s goals for the self-study process
- The fit between the self-study process and the self-study report, and how they will meet both the Commission’s and the institution’s needs
- The proposed structure of committees or work groups and who will serve on them
- A working outline that may become the table of contents of the self-study report
Although the Commission does not require the submission of every self-study design for review and approval, most self-study coordinators share the document with their Commission staff liaison, who reviews the design and provides comment and advice.
Use Commission Support
Institutions can obtain assistance from the Commission in a number of ways.
- Work with the Commission’s staff liaison in scheduling a campus visit.
- Attend a self-study workshop at the Annual Conference.
- Seek help in networking with Commission members at the Annual Conference.
- Use materials such as the Collection of Papers.