To Sample or not to Sample, That is the Question…

This is the sixth in a series focused on SACSOC interpretations of The Principles of Accreditation.

There are a few standards where institutions are permitted to provide a sample of documentation needed to make a case for compliance. We are talking about 7.3 Administrative Effectiveness, 8.2.a Student Outcomes: educational programs, and 8.2.c Student outcomes: academic and student services. This is where I want to break into song; “One of these things is not like the other…”. For a quick review, these standards require that an institution has outcomes, assesses the extent to which the outcomes are attained, and (sometimes) uses the data to inform changes seeking improvement. I say “sometimes” since 7.3 does not require any change. Let that sink in. Continuous improvement does not need to extend into administrative services. I believe that 7.3 should be 8.2.d Administrative Services, but that is a BLOG for another day. I have also been part of some successful sampling for 8.2.b Student Outcomes: general education.

These standards can, depending on the complexity of the institution, generate thousands of pages of documentation. A large institution may not want to drown their review committee in paper. Well, I guess it is all electrons now, but nobody wants to drown in electrons either. It may make sense for larger institutions to provide a sample of documentation related to these outcomes. Here are the elements of a successful sampling protocol for these standards. First, your sample needs to be done through the lens of your mission. All elements of the mission need to be included in the sample. Second, you need broad representation across the institution. All institution divisions, campuses, other instructional sites, course delivery modalities, and degree levels, etc. must be represented in your sample. If you are presenting a sample for these narratives, you must justify the composition of your sample in your narrative. All of this assessment activity should link back to your strategic plan.

A SACSCOC visiting team can, and I would say should, ask to see some examples of assessment documents beyond the sample provided. It is always a team’s prerogative to ask for more. The processes included in these standards should be both robust and ongoing so this should not present a problem. What if this is not the case? What if the completion of this process is inconsistent across your institution? What if some areas are clearly after continuous improvement, but others are simply going through the motions because they must? Hmm, think carefully about your sample. You could only present the best within the confines of your representative sample and hope that the team does not ask for more. You can mix the best in with the mediocre in your sample, saving some good stuff if the SACSCOC team asks for more. Keep in mind that these weak spots should be addressed. Abiding by the letter of the law (the standard) is a fair amount of work and will find you in compliance. Abiding by the spirit of the law is just a little more work and will be of more benefit to students. If you want to read more, the SACSCOC interpretation can be found here.

So, to sample or not to sample?

I don’t recommend that small institutions sample for these narratives. It will look like you are trying to hide something. I don’t recommend that medium sized institutions sample either. These should be ongoing processes that are ingrained in the fabric of your institution so packaging them up to support a case for compliance should be easy. Since we are not submitting printed documents, the sheer number of pages is not that big of a deal either. It MAY make sense for a large institution to sample; not to push anything back out of the light, but to avoid burying the review team in documentation.

At Southeastern Accreditation Consultants, we’re ready to collaborate and support your accreditation efforts. From reviewing narratives to building your documentation to improving assessment processes, we offer individualized services to best meet your needs. Visit us on the web to get started.

Published by Douglas A. Wymer

Throughout an academic career spanning nearly 20 years, Dr. Wymer participated in many site visits (both substantive change and reaffirmation visits) for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and he has been a visiting team member for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges with the Western Association of Colleges and Schools. In addition to serving as a team member, Dr. Wymer has served as a visiting committee chair for SACSCOC. After earning a B.S. in Biology (with a minor in Chemistry) from what was then Shorter College, an M.S. in Entomology from Clemson University, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from Tennessee Technological University, Dr. Wymer started a rewarding career in academia. He earned tenure and achieved the rank of Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences at The University of West Alabama and served in a number of administrative roles at UWA including Department Chair and Assistant Dean. He served as a Department Head at Pensacola State College and, after a year in that position, was promoted to Dean of Baccalaureate Studies and Academic Support. In 2016 he became the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Lake-Sumter State College, where he served for four years before launching Southeastern Accreditation Consultants.

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