The Commission relies on constant contact with the institution to ensure quality higher learning. Accredited institutions are required to submit progress reports, monitoring reports, contingency reports, and annual reports as well as to participate in focus visits.
An organization attends to its affiliation between comprehensive visits by honoring the stipulations, notifying the Commission of program and site expansion, filing required reports, and hosting any focused visits. The federal government requires recognized accrediting agencies to make visits in some situations; therefore, for both AQIP and PEAQ institutions, hosting such visits is also involved in attending to affiliation status.
The Commission’s relationship with an institution is organic; that is, it may come under review in whole or in part as the institution’s circumstances change. All affiliated institutions also attend to affiliation by filing an Annual Report on Organizational Information and Operational Indicators with the Commission.
Submitting Required Reports
The Commission differentiates among the following required reports.
- Progress reports. The Commission may require a progress report when its goal is to receive specific, important information from the institution, track how it is progressing in coping with certain changes or challenges, or receive evidence that plans came to fruition.
- Monitoring reports. The Commission may require a monitoring report in situations requiring careful ongoing attention. By requiring such a report, the Commission signals that the situation must change in a specific way and that, if it does not the Commission will require additional monitoring. The Commission may call for additional reports, require a focused visit, or, following guidance from the team, move forward the date of the next comprehensive evaluation.
- Contingency reports. The Commission may require a contingency report when it anticipates an event that could change conditions that would have a significant effect on the organization. Such a report specifies why the anticipated change requires monitoring, exactly what conditions require the organization to file the report, and what issues the staff should consider when the report is received.
At least a year before the report is due, the Commission sends a reminder to the organization. In special circumstances, the staff can shift the due date of a report at the request of the institution.
The successful filing of a report is considered an official Commission action. The Commission analysis together with the Commission letter of acceptance is part of the organization’s official file and is shared with the next evaluation team.
Participating in Focused Visits
Focused visits occur between comprehensive evaluations and examine only specific aspects of an organization. Focused visits are used primarily with the PEAQ process. A focused visit reviews specific developments and changes or follows up on concerns identified by a previous evaluation process and is not primarily concerned with determining whether an organization fulfills the Criteria for Accreditation.
The Commission may call for a focused visit as part of its accrediting action. Such a mandated focused visit is recorded on the institution’s Statement of Affiliation Status. In addition, the Commission may schedule a focused visit when policy mandates such review of certain institutional changes. All focused visits, whether mandated by the Commission or requested by an institution seeking approval of a change, follow the same processes.
The Institution Report for a Focused Visit
Prior to accreditation-related reviews, the institution provides the peer reviewers and the Commission with a set of required materials. Beginning in Fall 2011, these materials must be submitted electronically in PDF format for the majority of evaluations.
Required Materials and Submission Procedures: Focused Visit
Team Visit and Decision-Making Processes for Focused Visits
In some respects, the policies and procedures governing focused evaluations are similar to those governing comprehensive evaluations. However, there are a number of significant differences. The first difference involves the role of the evaluation team. A focused visit team does not evaluate whether an institution fulfills the Criteria for Accreditation, nor does it recommend granting, continuing, or denying candidate or accredited status. However, it can recommend sanctions if circumstances warrant and, in very rare situations, withdrawal of status.
Focused visits typically involve two team members for two days. Some unique visits may require several days and several team members. The team’s basic role is to evaluate the areas specified as the focus of the visit and to provide the Commission with a report on developments related to those areas. If matters outside the focus of the visit come to the attention of the team, it notes them, recommending appropriate changes in the institution’s affiliation with the Commission.
As is the case with comprehensive visits, focused visit recommendations are reviewed, typically by a Readers Panel, before final action is taken by the Institutional Actions Council. The Board of Trustees validates the action.
Filing the Institutional Update
All affiliated institutions, whether participating in PEAQ or AQIP, are required to complete the Commission’s Institutional Update each year. This report, which is completed online, provides the Commission with up-to-date information on the scope of activities of each affiliated institution and sufficient information to understand and respond to significant shifts in an institution’s capacity and/or scope of educational activities.
In reviewing the Institutional Update on Organizational Information and Operational Indicators, the Commission looks at relationships among a variety of indicators in a given year or over several years. If those relationships suggest that the institution may be experiencing problems or very rapid change, the Commission invites the institution to submit an interpretation of the data. In some situations, an institution may invite the Commission to conduct a visit, or the Commission itself may require such a visit.
The Operational Indicators
The Operational Indicators are the centerpiece of the Annual Report.
- They provide regular snapshots of an institution’s ongoing health.
- They mark dramatic or sudden changes in an institution’s profile.
- They provide longitudinal data on individual organizations.
- When appropriately aggregated, they provide trend and normative data for the various groups within institutions.
- They lessen the special reporting required of an institution before Commission visits.
- They provide a means for both the institution and the Commission to support accountability.
The major headings on the current version of the report are Demographics, Educational Programs, Financial Strength, and Scope of Activities. Data on educational programs should help the Commission understand possible shifts in institutional priorities as well as demographics and financial strength. Moreover, the Commission seeks assurance of basic financial support for those educational programs. Credit and noncredit certificate programs are included because they have come to constitute a growing component in many institutions. The ratios identified in the section on financial strength follow the recommendations of financial experts who hold that they serve monitoring purposes better than audits. Information on scope of activities allows the Commission to be certain that it knows the full scope of the institution’s educational offerings, thereby assisting in the fulfillment of the gatekeeper function for federal funds.