Accreditation Process Improvement

Accreditation for higher education is an overly difficult and complex process in need of simplification and improvement via kaizen. The people who prepare for accreditation site visits – faculty and administrators – mistakenly equate hours worked and volume of output as a proxy for high quality of work, as do the reviewers. Everyone accepts the process as it and they fail to recognize any problems and make significant improvements.

Accreditation in Action: Inside a Site Visit” (CHE, 14 April 2014, subscription required) highlights a few of the major problems with current accreditation preparation and site visit processes:

  • “By the time the reviewers arrived on the campus, the university had been preparing to be reaccredited for nearly two years, including compiling several hundred pages of information on how the institution is meeting more than 90 separate standards and federal requirements. In a separate room of the library sat 10 thick binders filled with reports and data, the undergraduate and graduate bulletins of the university, bound copies of the institution’s compliance study, and a focused report responding to issues raised before the visit by a separate set of reviewers.”

Two years, several hundred pages, 90 separate standards, 10 thick binders. Something is wrong here. Doesn’t anyone recognize this as a problem? Preparation should instead be an ongoing process, flow (daily) vs. batch (once every 5 years), standards can be combined and eliminated (80-20 rule), and eliminate the 10 binders and substitute with visual display of relevant information on a conference room wall (20-30 sheets of paper).

  • “…the reviewers met with faculty members and administrators to discuss the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan, a requirement of the Southern Association that the institution develop a program to specifically address and improve student learning across the campus.”

A quality improvement plan should address improving faculty teaching, from which student learning happens. Problems must be corrected at the source (teaching and administrative processes), not downstream – i.e. over-inspection of of student’s writing skills. See Lean Teaching for complete guidance.

  • On Thursday morning, the visiting reviewers met briefly with the senior administrators, making a few recommendations for improvement, and wrapped up their work in the Grisham room.”

A few recommendations for improvement? There should be hundreds of improvement recommendations. That’s the difference between conventional and Lean thinking. The former can only see a few opportunities for improvement, while the latter can see hundreds or thousands of opportunities for improvement.

  • “Mr. Keenum… acknowledged that the process had its limitations… ‘Is it foolproof? Absolutely not. Nothing is,’ he said. ‘But I would challenge anyone to come up a better system’.”

No problem. Simply kaizen the current process to create better future states. If kaizen is done right, re-accreditation will be a process that people enjoy working on, a little every day rather than a major burden to contend with once every seven or eight years.

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