Achieving SACS Reaffirmation & Building a Community of Practice
As a private Christian institution that receives no government support, Abilene Christian faces an extra challenge to recruit students and protect them from excessive loan debt.
To grow the university’s enrollment, boost its brand, and maintain its SACS accreditation, Dr. Tom Milholland, Assistant Provost for Institutional Effectiveness, saw the need for an improved and ongoing assessment process.
Dr. Milholland found it relatively easy to get useful data from the business school, the theological seminary, and other programs that require specialized accreditation, such as chemistry, nutrition, and psychology.
For the humanities, he depended on middle and upper management to motivate faculty. They emphasized the importance of being able to make a strong case for their programs. “When times are tough and academic areas are being trimmed,” Dr. Milholland said, “it’s critical to have rich documentation.”
While gathering assessment data, Abilene Christian investigated a number of software solutions to manage the assessment activities and the reaffirmation process. In this way, they hoped to operate more cost-effectively, reinforce the institution’s reputation, and help it compete for students against institutions like Baylor and Texas A&M.
“We were looking for something that was electronic, that was manageable, that would get us off paper and pencil,” said Dr. Milholland. “We knew that was where the discipline of institutional effectiveness was going. We looked for current products that had a track record and that we could grow with.”
Dr. Milholland organized a core group of four assessment staff to evaluate solutions, and brought in representatives from the technology department when necessary. When the technical staff found out that Taskstream would handle user support,” he said, “they were really happy campers.”
It didn’t take much to convince them that this would be “way easier than filling out all the Word document templates.”
“When your child walks across the stage…”
SACS reaffirmation was a clear and important goal for Abilene Christian. Using Taskstream, Abilene Christian published its self-study reaffirmation document online and used it as a “delivery system” for managing onsite and offsite SACS accreditation visits.
It was important to submit documents to SACS using an electronic workspace that worked reliably. “If the links don’t work they assume the document doesn’t exist,” said Dr. Milholland. You get dinged. Taskstream absolutely nailed our expectations for delivery.” Abilene Christian met its goal of obtaining reaffirmation for the next ten years. “We were blessed to have no deficiencies, one of the few schools that could say that.”
Other goals were less tangible but no less important
“I tell faculty members that when a parent comes to your office, we want to say, ‘When your child walks across the stage with a degree in hand four years from now, here’s what we want them to know, think, be able to do, and value.’ Taskstream is a way to help the department refine that, through evidence-based support of those assessments. When we find a deficiency we can correct it, and when we find something we’re doing really well we can do it better.”
Abilene Christian uses Taskstream to manage outcomes for “one hundred percent” of the campus, except for functions such as housekeeping that are outsourced. The financial and athletic departments, radio station, and campus theater use it, and even the grounds department uses it to manage its Texas Nursery & Landscape Association certification.
Dr. Milholland describes Taskstream as a friendly, visible system. “The functionality is excellent. But the support from the company sells the product as much as the product itself. The staff is very personable and very clear. I don’t think there’s been a question that has not been dealt with in a timely fashion.”