Reaffirmation of accreditation and quality improvement as a journey: A case study



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Texas Tech University


Institutional accreditation is an excellent vehicle for facilitating change toward the improvement of quality in higher education. It is fulfilled by three phases: (a) a self-study, (b) a peer review, and (c) a decision by the accrediting agency. Self-study is at the heart of institutional accreditation; however, it is not always favored. Some participants consider it to be a waste of time and resources. Yet, self-study, if properly approached and packaged, can help ensure a high-quality future for the institution. This qualitative case study research explored the internal review (self-study) processes used by a Level VI public university, United States Sigma University (USSU) (a pseudonym), that successfully went through reaffirmation in 2004 under the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools - Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC) new Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement, which was approved in December 2001. Data were collected from reviewing online and other documents; a fieldwork trip to USSU where interviews, observations, documents, and archival materials were gathered; and follow-up correspondence that increased the validity, reliability, and utility of the research study. The data analysis strategy used in this research study was the constant comparative method and the theoretical framework was open systems theory. Because the Principles of Accreditation were new, this research study addressed two fundamental problems: (a) how to deal with this new reaffirmation approach and the associated need for change and (b) how to integrate other quality improvement mechanisms with the internal review processes. Results of the study indicate that sixteen critical elements contributed to the success of the internal review processes at USSU:

  1. Adapting to the new Principles;
  2. Selecting the right Accreditation Liaison;
  3. Selecting the right Leadership Team;
  4. Starting early and using timelines;
  5. Training and preparing the participants and the university community;
  6. Using unique strategies for developing the Compliance Certification and the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP);
  7. Having a well-written Compliance Certification and QEP;
  8. Preparing well for the on-site review;
  9. Having university leadership commitment, support, and belief in accreditation;
  10. Communicating effectively;
  11. Using technology effectively;
  12. Leveraging available resources and matching the reaffirmation with the institutional circumstances;
  13. Establishing an effective relationship and regular communication with the SACS-COC staff liaison;
  14. Having competent reviewers;
  15. Using internal review findings for improvement; and
  16. Having a strong institutional effectiveness program. This study also indicates that the more reaffirmation requirements are integrated into institutional processes (e.g., strategic planning and budgeting), the better the institution will do in carrying out its internal review. Sixteen critical elements of the USSU internal review processes and insights gained from this case study are potentially useful to other SACS-COC universities. This research contributes to knowledge for improvement of educational practices. It also meets the SACS-COC universities’ needs for understanding effective ways of conducting internal reviews for quality improvement while simultaneously satisfying the SACS-COC new requirements for reaffirmation.