Most institutions consider the orientation that takes place at the SACSCOC annual meeting to be the start of the reaffirmation process. Once you get back from the meeting and get the following spring term started you start to hear the accreditation clock ticking. I believe work should start well before the orientation in a few key areas where ongoing documentation is required.
First is student learning outcomes. My experience indicates that most colleges have a compliant system in place, but have not given much thought to how that system will be “packaged” for a Compliance Certification. Remember the three components: identify learning outcomes, assess student attainment of the learning outcomes, and use data to inform changes seeking improvement. All three must be fully communicated, easily understood, and intimately linked. If a reviewer has to look in one place to see the outcomes, another to look at the data, and a third to see documentation that changes were made they will likely lose their train of thought along those tracks. Packaging this might take some time and you need to provide at least two years of assessment (three is better).
Second is service review. Don’t go look for it, there is no service review standard in the Principles of Accreditation; this is how I group 7.3 and 8.2.c. Generally speaking, fewer institutions have problems with packaging up these processes for a Compliance Certification, but that is not true for all. Just like student learning outcomes, two years is good, three years is better.
Third is performance evaluations of faculty and staff. There are a few standards included here and two or three complete cycles will be required consistent with your institution’s policies. Some institutions get a bit lax about this during the in-between times. Taking a look at this early can provide a push at just the right time to have two cycles complete by the time the Compliance Certification is due if there are any gaps.
There are others to take a look at that include 7.1 and 8.1, among others. What else should you focus on? Minutes. You will need minutes from every “official” meeting. Most institutions are good about the big ones like the Board of Trustees and the President’s Cabinet, but you will be looking for minutes from division meetings, department meetings, committee meetings (standing and ad hoc), and maybe even SGA meetings. If time is money, you will be money ahead if you can get everybody on a common template now, while there is plenty of time before these will be needed.
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