Charles Zastrow, MSW PhD, LCSW
Karen K. Kirst-Ashman, BSW, MSW, Ph.D., LCSW
Janice A. Stoudemire, CPA, ABA, ATA
When properly administered, accreditation ensures that your department or institution maintains the performance measures and academic standards established by your association or governing body. However, the process of obtaining accreditation, which may include the accreditation visit, can cause anxiety and a sense of trepidation, even for the most organized and diligent among us.
Though it may be impossible to completely eliminate all vestiges of nervousness, it is certainly possible to mitigate those feelings. Below, Cengage Learning authors Charles Zastrow and Karen K. Kirst-Ashman share insights gleaned from their experience as accreditation site visitors for the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and Janice Stoudemire, site evaluator for the Accreditation Council for Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and past site evaluator for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) shares some of the keys to ensuring a successful accreditation visit.
The process of preparing all the documents for accreditation, or reaccreditation, is certainly a lot of work. But the process is well worth the effort! It will lead your students to be proud of their program. It undoubtedly will energize your faculty, and raise their commitment to the program. It will facilitate your institution’s administration to more fully understand the importance of your discipline.
- Have one or more of the faculty attend any training session offered by your accrediting body, which can instruct you in how to prepare your documentation. For example, CSWE offers training sessions in how to prepare the Self-Study documents.
- Employ a good Consultant to guide you in writing the documents, who will also review your documents.
- When questions arise, contact your accreditation specialist — the more contact you have with her or him, the more likely it is that you will achieve success!
Best wishes with the process!!
— Charles Zastrow, MSW PhD, LCSW and Karen K. Kirst-Ashman, BSW, MSW, Ph.D., LCSW Authors of numerous Social Work titles for Cengage Learning, including Understanding Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Ninth Edition
Whether you are pursuing regional or specialized accreditation/reaffirmation, the key to a successful site visit is planning and logistics. The purpose of the site evaluators’ visit is to verify information contained in your self-study. Therefore, it is important that you provide adequate exhibits, documentation, and evidence that support the self-study report. Do not wait until the last minute to assemble the required documents; instead gather, organize, label, and index the documentation as you write your self-study. Check with your contact (normally the chairperson) whether digital or paper copies are required. Remember that every institution should provide an on-site resource work room for the evaluators that houses the exhibits as well as provides computer/printer access.
Because evaluators may need to verify a process or request a document that you have not originally provided, be sure that all areas of the institution are on “stand-by” during the visit. Avoid scheduling the visit during a busy time for the institution (such as the start of a semester, fiscal year-end, etc.) or at time when key personnel will be unavailable.
Making best use of the evaluators’ time during the visit is paramount. Therefore, you need to work in advance with the chairperson to finalize the agenda and schedule requested interviews with faculty, staff, students, and stakeholders. Be sure that all institutional personnel are aware of the date, time, and place of their interviews.
Finally, plan the logistics of the visit such as lodging, local transportation, meals, meeting rooms, tour of facilities, and technology support. Consider assigning a logistics person or committee to handle this task. Don’t forget to provide maps of the campus (or student guides), light refreshments during the day, and plan for inclement weather.
Janice A. Stoudemire, CPA, ABA, ATA, has been involved with student learning outcomes for more than a decade. Janice is Past President of the ACBSP, a retired faculty member from Midlands Technical College, and is now the president of Palmetto Academic Consulting Services, Inc. Janice is a site evaluator for ACBSP and a past site evaluator for SACS.