Preparing for the Self Study
The self study is generally regarded as the most valuable element
of the accreditation process. We also know, however, that when faced
with an accreditation review, faculty and staff members on a campus
rarely respond with overt enthusiasm. Attitudes are more likely to
range from grudging acceptance to outright disdain. Some will view
the accreditation process as a necessary evil, and many will avoid
involvement to the extent possible.
Conducting a self study is a great deal of extra work for faculty
members who are already fully engaged, to be sure, but perhaps even
more important as a reason for less-than-enthusiastic attitudes is
that many on a campus do not think of accreditation’s value for
institutional or program improvement. The president’s or
chancellor’s role is therefore, first and foremost, to set the tone
for a positive attitude about what the accreditation process can do
for an institution and its future. Following are some specific
suggestions for how you as president or chancellor can make
accreditation a positive and beneficial experience for your
Before the self-study begins:
Insist that the self appraisal be rigorous,
honest and forthright. Seek common agreement on the institution’s
weaknesses—areas where there is clearly room for improvement—as well
as on the institution’s strengths and points of pride.
Send a signal to the campus by appointing highly
respected faculty members—people who are not only outstanding
academics but who are also good campus citizens—to lead the self
Emphasize the importance of evaluating/measuring/
observing student learning outcomes, over and over and over.
Although we in higher education have talked about “outcomes
assessment” for some years now, many faculty members have avoided
addressing it because it is truly difficult to do in many of the
most important learning objectives. Even though it may often be
impossible to quantify learning results, some observation, if not
measurement, of learning outcomes is expected in the accountability
to the public that we call accreditation. The accreditation process
may be the stimulus needed on many campuses to attend to the issue
of student learning outcomes.
Make sure that the campus understands the quality
improvement function of accreditation. Obviously, issues of
compliance with accreditation standards must be addressed thoroughly
and effectively, but for many institutions the greater challenge
will be to approach the self study in a way that takes advantage of
the required investment of time and effort to generate a climate of
pride and commitment to improve. What is the appropriate level of
involvement for the president or chancellor? Certainly it is neither
possible nor appropriate for the campus leader to be involved in
every detail of the accreditation self study process, but here are
some specific actions that will be most helpful to a successful
Take personal interest in appointing the
leadership team or steering committee for the self study, along with
your provost or academic dean. In order to attract the very best
people for this task the president’s or chancellor’s personal
invitation is important.
Confer with the leadership team/steering
committee regarding the work plan for the self study process,
including the number and makeup of committees and subcommittees,
timelines, etc. Although the work plan should be developed by the
steering committee, the president should take the time to be
informed about it, to contribute to it, and to approve it.
Help the leadership group to formulate the
desired outcomes of the self study so that it will become a useful
document for future planning. Determining the key issues to be
addressed in the self study is an area in which consensus between
faculty and administration is especially important.
Be certain that the self study process focuses on
such critical issues as academic integrity and student learning
Assist with communication to the campus
throughout the self study process, to encourage participation or
invigorate people as needed. Sometimes one needs to be a
Provide brief progress reports to your governing
board on a regular basis throughout the process so that they are
informed and involved at the appropriate level.
Make certain that the review process is supported
with adequate resources, both in personnel and funding.