Blog: Idea Exchange

Maintaining the Assessment Momentum, Post-Accreditation Visit

Dr. Shannon Helfinstine September 6, 2017

Many of us in assessment positions play key roles in accreditation efforts, whether the accreditor is regional or specialized. Especially those, like my institution, who are relatively new players in the assessment game, are scrutinized with monitoring reports, or even placed on a warning status because of the lack of clear assessment practices. Assessment coordinators/directors painstakingly document assessment practices, results, and actions, and say a little prayer when it comes time for accreditor approval. Sure, assessment results are not meant solely for external audiences (continuous improvement, yada, yada), but it sure does help validate and build confidence and buy-in when practices are praised both internally and externally.

Last November, my relatively young (private, non-profit, healthcare-based, incorporated in 2004) institution went through The Higher Learning Commission’s (HLC, regional accreditor) Year Four Evaluation, complete with an assurance argument document and site visit. An assessment monitoring report was also a requisite piece of our assurance argument; it wasn’t that during the previous HLC visit we weren’t assessing student learning outcomes at the institutional level, but the plan was new and we had yet to collect data showing how we close the loop for continuous improvement. Thankfully, the 2016 visit concluded with all criteria being met, with the bonus that the assessment monitoring status was lifted! After four years of data cycles under our belt, the assessment monkey was finally lifted from our back.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there. Within our assurance argument, we were forthcoming that our co-curricular (CoC) assessment was under-developed, and the HLC team agreed. Following the theme of continuous improvement, I was ready to tackle CoC assessment, but also take HLC reviewer recommendations to improve upon our proven academic assessment practices. The following outlines my plan to maintain the assessment, and therefore accreditation, momentum:

  • Strategic academic assessment – Though the monitoring report was lifted, during the last four years, it was essentially “all hands on-deck”.  By that I mean every full-time faculty member was assessing a class for one of our general learning outcomes (GLO) each semester (we are small, that’s only ~15 faculty).  We were very focused on collecting data, and for the most part, faculty embraced the process and used the information collected to improve their courses.  Now, however, we need to expand to the courses that have not been assessed. So, I’m planning to strategically choose courses, many from general education (with the help of adjuncts!), and at least one program course that best aligns with the GLO theme for the year.
  •  Co-curricular assessment – Having no on-campus residents, less than enthusiastic student life, and no real service learning requirements, CoC is a bit of a challenge. Since CoC learning technically is learning outside the classroom, most likely we will rely on institutional support services to serve as CoC examples. For example, recently our admissions and advising teams were realigned to be more student centered; during this process, I helped assign student learning outcomes that align with our GLOs so we can assess this new student success plan’s effectiveness.  Hopefully, along the way we will be able to show students are learning outside the classroom through these new initiatives. Fingers-crossed it works!

In conclusion, I am beginning what feels like a new chapter for the next accreditation cycle. Maybe in a year I’ll give an update to see exactly how well my plans were executed – wish me luck, and best of luck to any of you with accreditation visits this year!