Institute Occasional Paper 6: Mapping the Territory
If you are looking for the "Perspective from Campus Leaders on the Current State of Learning Outcomes" click here.
Regional Accreditation in the American higher education system has been challenged in recent years as to its approach to evaluating institutional quality, but too little is known about the criteria and processes they use. Staci Provezis from the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment carefully examines how regional accrediting groups go about the job of making judgments about institutional quality. To do so, she examines the policies and procedures of the seven regional accreditors as they relate to student learning outcomes assessment to find similarities and differences. In many ways, these organizations exhibit a degree of consistency across regions with regard to student learning outcomes assessment. However, she asserts more could be done to define useful approaches to assessment, to disseminate these approaches, and to address the cost of these additional expectations for institutions.
While institutions engage in assessment for various reasons, one principle reason is to meet the expectations of accreditors. Accreditation in the United States serves as both a quality assurance and accountability mechanism, and it has been the focus of much discussion since the Spellings Report and the Reauthorization of Higher Education Act, the common contention being that regional accreditation organizations should be assuring high levels of quality education from the institutions they accredit.
In this paper, I examine the policies and procedures of the seven regional accreditors as they relate to student learning outcomes assessment. My findings indicate that accreditors (1) subscribe to the Council for Regional Accreditating Commissions’ (C-RAC) Principles of Good Practice; (2) do not prescribe strategies for assessment although some offer structured guidance; (3) predominantly consider transparency an issue of institutional integrity; (4) agree that faculty are a crucial stakeholder in student learning outcomes assessment; (5) cite institutions for deficient work in assessment at higher levels than in the past; and (6) offer various resources to assist institutions in meeting their expectations. In many ways, these organizations exhibit a degree of consistency across regions with regard to student learning outcomes assessment. However, more could be done to define useful approaches to assessment, to disseminate these approaches, and to address the issue of assessment as a cost liability for institutions. Regional accreditors and their institutional members particularly need to work together to address two concerns: faculty involvement and transparency. My findings and recommendations provide, in miniature, a map of the current territories of regional accreditation, with an emphasis on organizations’ efforts to foster both consistency and creativity as they assist institutions in their assessment activities. At their foundation, accreditors’ expectations are similar, but there are different approaches being tested across the nation. More cross-pollination among the regions would allow each to learn and grow from the others.
Staci Provezis is Project Manager and Research Analyst for the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA). She oversees NILOA’s daily operations and participates in various research projects undertaken by the institute. Her own research examines the role of accreditation in institutional assessment and maps institutional responses to the nationwide call for transparency in student learning outcomes assessment. Before joining NILOA, Staci worked in various collegiate academic and student affairs positions, including coordinating a Study Abroad Program at Eastern Illinois University, directing a first-year experience program at the University of Pittsburgh, and teaching English courses at Dallas County Community College and Collin County Community College. She holds a Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Illinois, and an M.A. and B.A. in English from Marshall University.
This paper was featured on October 27, 2010 Measuring Stick article, "Learning Assessment: The Regional Accreditors' Role," a special feature in The Chronicle of Higher Education focusing on quality and assessment of higher education.
November 18, 2010 - AIR eNewsletter NILOA Release, Regional Accreditation and Student Learning Outcomes: Mapping the Territory
For more information on regional and specialized/programmatic accrediting organizations along with links to those groups, click here.
"This paper is a valuable, insightful overview of the important role that regional accreditation plays as institutions address assessment and student learning outcomes. The challenges outlined are consistent with those the Council for Higher Education Accreditation has discovered to be central to dealing effectively with increased demands for greater accountability, student achievement and transparency."