Board Chair Puts College Between a Rock and a Hard Place

rock and a hard place

Talk about putting an institution between a rock and a hard place. North Idaho College’s regional accreditation is in jeopardy as a result of its Board Chair’s alleged actions. 

According to an article in The Spokesman-Review, there are multiple complaints about his aggressive, threatening, and unprofessional behavior toward the college president, employees and trustees. In one case, the president himself reportedly saw this man physically assault a female college employee at a college-sponsored event in 2019. 

A damning article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education provided details about just how bad things are for the College. It speaks to the role that local politics are playing and apparently North Idaho College has become the pawn in a political battleground. 

Formal complaints have been filed about other Board actions that seem to be in violation of accrediting regulations. And now, the institution must somehow mount a defense and try to convince their regional accreditor why they shouldn’t lose their accreditation. If that happens, the doors to that college close. 

All because of one man and a political agenda.

The College’s Board of Trustees had better think long and hard about the consequences of continuing to support this Chair. 

If North Idaho College loses its accreditation and the institution is forced to close, the entire region will be negatively impacted. Business owners will have a harder time finding a qualified workforce pool. Restaurants, gas stations, and other retail stores will have fewer customers with cash in their pockets. Consequently, the overall quality of life will suffer.

The time is quickly approaching for the Board to make a decision regarding which is more important, advancing their political agenda or keeping the College open? They can’t have it both ways. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. 

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in higher education quality assurance, educator preparation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant specializing in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). 

Twitter: @RRossFisher

Email: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com 

 

Top Graphic Credit:  Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash 

 

Accreditation Stress: It’s Real.

Accreditation Stress

Author’s Note: Updated from a previous publication. 

We can all agree: Accreditation is something all higher education officials acknowledge is necessary, but the accreditation stress that goes along with it is something they’d love to do without.

Each accrediting body has its own standards and quality indicators. They have their own policies and procedures which can vary widely. However, one thing that’s common across every accrediting body a site visit, where a review team spends a few days on campus (or virtually) conducting interviews, verifying information, and making recommendations regarding how well the institution measures up to standards.

Regardless of the accrediting body, the site visit is both expensive and exhausting. With very few exceptions, faculty, staff, and administrators shout for joy when they see a site review team leave campus and head for the airport.

Accreditation Stress is Real.

In many instances, staff involved in the accreditation process focus so much on preparing for the site visit they aren’t ready for the emotional or physical toll that it can take on them. Moreover, the stress usually doesn’t end when the site review team leaves. My experience in accreditation over the past 10 years has confirmed there’s a need for this kind of information, and yet it’s a topic I’ve never seen addressed at conferences or in professional literature.

Accreditation-related stress and anxiety are real. You might be able to function, and you may be able to hide it from others. But, how do you know if it’s starting to get the best of you? And what can you do about it?

Red Flag Alert: Some Signs the Stress is Negatively Impacting Your Life

You’re surviving, but you’re not thriving. You may be making it through each day, but the quality of your life is suffering. You’re not enjoying the things that used to make you happy. You feel guilty about taking the time to watch a sunset or to read a book. Every waking moment is spent thinking about the site visit.

Those lights in your brain just won’t shut off. You can’t sleep, even though you feel exhausted. You’re worn out physically and mentally, but you can’t allow yourself to take even a few hours off to rest.

You’re numb inside. You have no appetite and aren’t eating. You’ve even managed to shut down your emotions. It’s like you’ve gone on auto-pilot and feel like a robot.

You feel empty, like there’s a gaping hole inside. But even though the emptiness isn’t from hunger you binge eat everything in sight. And then you still look around for more because you still have that huge gaping hole that just can’t seem to be filled.

You become obsessed with every detail, no matter how minute it may seem. It’s those little foxes that spoil the vine. You’re determined that you’re going to make sure NOTHING is overlooked.  

You come to believe that you are ultimately responsible for the success of the site review. If you’re honest with yourself, you don’t think others are as committed to success as you are. The little voice inside you says, “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself!”

You start to resent others who don’t seem as stressed out as you are. While you hate feeling like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, you refuse to delegate responsibility to others and then you get mad when you hear that they went to a movie or a concert over the weekend.

Drink the Stress Away: You may hear yourself saying, “I just need to take the edge off” or “I just need to relax for a while.” Having one glass of Chardonnay is one thing but knocking back five tequila shots in 30 minutes is another.

Ups and Downs: You may self-medicate by taking a pill or two to help you sleep because even though you’re exhausted, you’re wired due to all the stress.

Caffeine overload: You may guzzle coffee, soda, or Red Bull throughout the day (or night) because, “I’ve got to keep going for just a little while longer.”

Shop ‘til Your Fingers Drop: On a whim you may go on a shopping spree and spend a ton of money on things you probably didn’t really need. Not at a brick and mortar store or mall—that would be far too self-indulgent. Instead, you likely visited Zappos or Amazon, where you could remain close to your computer and be right there to respond to an urgent email should one land in your Inbox.

Keep Setting the Bar Higher: You set impossible standards for yourself to meet and then criticize yourself endlessly when you don’t meet them. It’s like you’re obsessed with proving something to others—and to yourself. Except that you’re never satisfied with your performance, even when you do things well.

Slay the Dragon: You plan things down to each minute detail, leaving no stone unturned. You review things in your mind, over and over again. Sometimes you obsess about forgetting something. You’re determined to emerge victorious, regardless of the personal cost.

Accreditation Stress: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Think the stress of getting ready for a site visit only affects you? Think again. If you have close friends, a life partner, or children, they are affected as well. It’s possible that your furry buddies at home can even detect your anxiety. You’ll know if your stress is out of balance if you hear a loved one say, “I miss you!” “I HATE your job!” or “Will this ever end?”

 

Moving from Surviving to Thriving: How to Manage Your Stress in a Healthy Way

Even Superman struggled at times with Kryptonite. However, he found ways to adapt and overcome those challenges, and so can you. While an accreditation site visit always leads to a certain level of stress, there are things you can do to minimize the anxiety. For example:

Prepare ahead of time: It may sound simplistic, but getting a jumpstart on the process reduces a lot of stress. If you don’t start on the process until 6 or 8 months before the site visit, you are putting yourself squarely in the crosshairs of some serious stress and anxiety.

Ideally, quality assurance should be an integral part of every program. There really shouldn’t be any significant scrambling or looking for data. Your institution should already be reviewing, analyzing, looking for trends, and making data-driven decisions to improve programs on a continual basis. You should plan on starting your self-study report (SSR) no later than 18 months prior to a scheduled site visit. The more you delay this timetable, the higher your stress level will be. Guaranteed.

Hire a consultant: Let’s face it–not everyone has a lot of expertise when it comes to writing self-study reports, gathering evidence, and preparing for site visits. In many institutions, departments are understaffed and often wear multiple hats of responsibility. Most institutions don’t have to deal with accreditation matters on a regular basis. Therefore few have a high level of confidence in that area.

In some schools, new faculty coordinate a site visit because more seasoned faculty refuse to do it. This is wrong on so many levels, and yet it’s a frequent occurrence. An experienced consultant could provide the kind of guidance and support that may be needed. The institution doesn’t incur the expense of paying for someone’s full-time salary, benefits, or office space. In this age of budget cuts, hiring an independent contractor can actually save money.

Provide faculty/staff training: Letting others know what to expect and getting them on board early on will greatly reduce anxiety for everyone. Plan a kickoff event, and then schedule periodic retreats/advances. Create a solid communication protocol and stick with it. When team members are fully informed and are active contributors to the process, the stress is reduced for everyone.

Delegate to others as much as possible: It’s important to have a project manager/coordinator for every major project, and that includes accreditation site visits. However, that does NOT mean that this one person needs to take on the bulk of the responsibility—quite the contrary. Instead, that person should serve as a “conduit” who facilitates the flow of information between internal and external stakeholders. That person should also play the primary role in delegating tasks to appropriate personnel. He or she maintains a schedule so that tasks are completed on time.

It’s OK to talk about it: Know that a certain amount of stress and anxiety are normal reactions to accreditation site visit preparation, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to talk with your colleagues and leadership about your stress level. It’s entirely possible that others share your feelings—it might be helpful to start a small informal support group. Getting together one day a week for lunch works wonders.

Be upfront with your friends and loved ones:  Prepare family and friends ahead of time. Help them to know what to expect. Include them in the celebration once it’s over. Your children, significant other, and close friends may not be writing the self-study report or creating pieces of evidence. Your support system also plays an important role in the site review process behind the scenes.

Be kind to yourself: This may sound silly but it’s really important. Purposely build one nice thing into your personal calendar each day. It may be taking a walk, working out, or reading for pleasure for 30 minutes. Regardless what you choose, it’s crucial that you make this a part of your schedule.

Be ready when it’s over:  You may find that you can hold yourself together from start to finish, but then after the site review team packs up and leaves your institution you have a feeling of not quite knowing what to do with yourself. What you’ve focused all your energy on for 18 months is suddenly over. This can result in your emotions taking a deep dive—and it can last for several weeks.

You can greatly reduce this by planning a combination of fun activities and work activities for your next four weeks after the site visit. You’ve been functioning within a very structured paradigm for several months. However, if you suddenly have nothing to do it will likely lead to additional anxiety so it’s best to transition back slowly.

The bottom line is that while accreditation stress is definitely real, it doesn’t have to get the best of you or your team.

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in higher education quality assurance, educator preparation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant specializing in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). 

Twitter: @RRossFisher

Email: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com 

 

Top Graphic Credit:  Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

 

 

 

ACICS: It’s Time to Pull the Plug

ACICS

Update: The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) provides recommendations regarding accrediting agencies that monitor the academic quality of postsecondary institutions and educational programs for federal purposes. NACIQI will review ACICS at its virtual meeting on March 4.

The Pressure to Boost Enrollment

Within the highly competitive market of student admissions, college and university enrollment counselors point out all the reasons why students should choose their institution. Most claims are usually truthful. But sometimes enrollment counselors bend the truth a bit, leave out important details, or just flat out lie. This is done in an effort to meet monthly enrollment quotas intended to fill classrooms (virtual or in-person). More students means increased revenue, typically through federal financial aid. 

While we occasionally see this within traditional academia, the vast majority of unscrupulous enrollment practices take place in for-profit institutions that were created for one sole purpose: To make money. 

Unsuspecting students, many of whom may be the first in their family to ever go to college, put their trust in these enrollment counselors. They work two and three jobs to scrape up enough money for textbooks or childcare. Often encouraged by admissions or financial aid counselors, they borrow the maximum amount they can in federal student loans. These students work hard and dream of getting a good job when they graduate so they can make a better life for themselves and their loved ones. 

Far too often, we’ve seen those dreams shattered because those institutions failed to operate with integrity. Failed to tell the truth. Failed their students, and left them hanging with tens of thousands of dollars in debt with nothing to show for it. 

Even more tragically, those institutions were allowed to take advantage of their students by the very ones who were supposed to make sure they were doing the right thing: Accrediting bodies. 

 

Quality Assurance Watchdogs

Accrediting bodies were formed in the United States to serve as quality assurance watchdogs. Their role is to ensure that higher education institutions operate with integrity. For example, they should be financially stable. They should hire qualified faculty members. And, they should provide high-quality programs that help students get a job when they graduate. One such accrediting body is the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). 

Founded in 1912, ACICS was first recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) back in 1956. It’s authorized to accredit private postsecondary institutions that offer certificates or diplomas. In addition, ACICS reviews postsecondary institutions offering associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degrees in programs designed to educate students for professional, technical, or occupational careers, including those that offer those programs via distance education.

 

Where ACICS Operates

ACICS has a worldwide presence. In addition to operating across the United States, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Island, the organization also accredits institutions in Antigua and Barbuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Peru, Spain, and Taiwan. 

 

Profile of Institutions and Programs Accredited by ACICS 

Currently, the body has an active membership of 85 institutions, with 80% of them being run by for-profit corporations. Several are operated by the same company but are accredited separately as different branches or campuses. 

Right now, ACICS has its stamp of approval on a total of 623 programs across the 85 institutions it has accredited. For those who complete those programs, we see the following breakdown:

 

Credential Level
Number of Programs Accredited by ACICS
Program Examples
Certificate of Completion or Diploma

166

  • Cardiovascular Technologist
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonography
  • Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse
  • Security and Investigation
  • Personal Trainer
  • Professional Pilot
  • English as a Second Language
  • Patient Care Technician
  • Massage Therapy
  • Practical Nursing 
  • Internet Site Development
  • Ophthalmic Technology
Occupational Associate’s Degree

43

  • Information Technology
  • Paralegal
  • Medical Assistant
  • Biotechnology
  • Electrical Technology with Technical Drawing in Computers
  • Dental Assistant with Expanded Duties
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacy Technician
  • Respiratory Therapy
  • Surgical Technology
Academic Associate’s Degree

128

  • Baking and Pastry Arts
  • Surgical Technician
  • Nursing
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonography
  • International Business
  • Pre-School Education
  • Mental Health and Human Services
  • Massage and Spa Operations
  • Funeral Service
  • Air Conditioning, Refrigeration, and Heating Technology
  • Muscle Activation Techniques
  • Solar-Sustainable Energy Specialist
  • Assistance Dog Education
Bachelor’s Degree

148

  • Patient Care Technician
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • RN-BSN Bridge
  • Trust and Wealth Management
  • International Relations and Diplomacy
  • Digital Business
  • International Economics
  • Global Management
  • Japanese Studies
  • Fashion Imaging
  • Chinese Literature
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Diagnostic Cardiovascular Sonography
  • Muscle Activation Techniques
Master’s Degree

138

  • Big Data Analytics
  • Human-Canine Life Sciences
  • Aviation Science
  • Inter-American Defense & Security
  • Digital Master in Business Administration
  • Master in Internet Business
  • Global Finance
  • Chinese Literature
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Education
  • Nursing
  • Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
  • Nursing with Specialty in Critical Care

 

As part of its program review protocol, ACICS takes a close look at multiple metrics. When a program or institution doesn’t meet benchmark standards, it receives the equivalent of a warning. Subsequently, they are given a specified time to make the necessary improvements. In more serious instances, the organization sends institutions a formal Compliance Warning or Show Cause letter. 

 

Compliance Warnings

A Compliance Warning action is taken when the Council determines that an institution or campus is not in compliance with the Accreditation Criteria but is able to bring itself into compliance within the time frame specified by the Council. In 2020, ACICS issued Compliance Warnings to eight institutions. It’s already issued one Warning this year. 

Most of the reasons focus on Student Achievement or Quality Assurance. Frequently, warnings were issued for incomplete data. In some cases, institutions provided incomplete faculty information about qualifications. In other cases, there are low graduation rates or low employment placement rates after program completion. The ACICS benchmark for student retention and employment placement post-graduation is 60%. In some cases, placement rates are 54%, 17%, and even 0%. As a result, many students are finding it extremely difficult to get a job once they graduate. 

 

Show Cause Letters

ACICS sent Show Cause letters to five of its member institutions in 2020. A Show Cause letter formally lets institutional administrators know that the institution is very close to having their accreditation withdrawn; they are instructed to provide evidence or “show cause” as to why the institution should be allowed to continue its operations. Four of the five Show Cause letters focused on student achievement. In each case, student retention rates and employment placement rates were abysmal.

The last Show Cause letter revealed that ACICS had learned the institution had launched a Doctor of Business Administration program without receiving prior approval. Even worse, the program had already enrolled 23 students. If allowed to continue, those graduates would likely find a difficult time advancing their career with a doctorate from an unaccredited program. Or, if chose to transfer to another institution, it’s almost a guarantee that none of the courses completed from an unaccredited program would be accepted for transfer.  

 

Often Too Little Oversight, Too Late

As I wrote in The Dominoes That Didn’t Have to Fall: Vatterott College, the ECA, and Others Like Them in early 2019, ACICS has become the go-to accrediting body for institutions that want a seal of approval quickly. Most are for-profits. Many don’t want to do the work to go through a rigorous program review process. They know that they need to be accredited in order to boost enrollment and in many cases, receive federal student financial aid. Word travels quickly through a network of unscrupulous investors which accrediting bodies are the easiest way to get from A to B. 

In 2018, 37 ACICS-accredited institutions shut their doors. By 2019, it was 13 and in 2020, the number was four. Each of those now-defunct for-profit institutions operated multiple programs of study, with each having multiple students enrolled. The amount of money in federal financial aid sent to those institutions is staggering. Even worse, just think of how many thousands of students and their families have been devastated because ACICS failed to do their job as an accrediting body. 

It’s Time to Finally Pull the Plug on ACICS

It’s past time for the US Department of Education to pull the plug on ACICS. Given their track record over many years, it’s obvious the organization simply isn’t up to the task of ensuring program quality. Above all else, accrediting bodies are in place to protect students from unscrupulous companies that don’t think twice about taking their money.  Those predatory for-profits lead students on and then send them on their way with a certificate or degree that often isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Or, they shutter their doors without notice, leaving unsuspecting students in a lurch with no idea what to do next. 

President Obama made the decision to derecognize and strip ACICS of its power back in 2016. At that time, the organization was the gatekeeper to $4.76 billion in 2015 federal aid payments to more than 245 career-oriented colleges. 

However, Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration refused to do the right thing by students. Instead, they chose to reinstate ACICS as a recognized accrediting body. As a result, ACICS continued to approve programs that couldn’t be accredited by another body. In one case, reporters discovered that one institution given the ACICS stamp of approval in 2017 wasn’t even actually a functioning university. In another case, there weren’t actually any faculty on staff. 

Nonetheless, it’s now up to the Biden administration to clean up the mess, once and for all. In a recent staff report, senior US Department of Education officials recommended terminating ACICS’ recognition as an accrediting body. Based on solicited third-party comments, those who care about higher education quality are elated. 

The Department of Education should shut down ACICS for good. In addition, it should take steps that ensure that this type of incompetence never happens again. 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in higher education quality assurance, educator preparation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant specializing in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). 

Twitter: @RRossFisher

Email: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com 

 

Top Graphic Credit:  Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Preparing for a CAEP Site Visit

CAEP Site Visit

Preparing for an accreditation site visit is always stressful for university faculty and staff, even under the best of circumstances. Depending on whether we’re talking about a regional accrediting body, a state compliance audit, or a discipline-specific accreditor, there are certain processes and procedures that must be followed. This piece will focus helping teacher preparation programs prepare for a Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) site visit.

Essential CAEP Site Visit Preparation Items

Approximately 2-4 months prior to a site visit, the CAEP team lead will meet virtually the educator preparation program (EPP) administrator(s) and staff. Sometime representatives of that state’s department of education will participate. By the end of this meeting, all parties should be “on the same page” and should be clear regarding what to expect in the upcoming site visit. Here are the topics that are essential to cover. Keep in mind that these items are for onsite program reviews. Due to COVID, all site visits are currently being conducted virtually.

Travel Details

    • Confirm preferred airport
    • If arrival and departure times coincide, team prefers to pick up a rental car at the airport and provide their own transportation during the site visit.
    • Otherwise, EPP will need to make ground transportation arrangements

School Visits

    • Not required, but generally requested by the team if there are concerns regarding clinical experiences. Typically limit of 2 (from different grade levels such as 1 Elem & 1 HS)
    • Should not require significant drive time
    • EPP should provide a guide (typically faculty) to drive and serve as host/hostess
    • Usually should take no more than 1 hour onsite at school

Hotel and Onsite Workrooms

    • Must be secure and private; lockable.
    • Only site team members and state representatives are to enter the work rooms.
    • Conference table large enough to accommodate all team members and state representatives
    • Printer, secure wifi, LCD or HDTV projector
    • Shredder
    • Basic office supplies (i.e., stapler, paper clips, post-its, note pads, pens, highlighters, etc.)

Food/Snacks Onsite and in Hotel Workroom

    • There should be healthy snacks and beverages (i.e., bottled water, coffee, soda) in the work room at the hotel and on campus.
    • The team will eat breakfast at the hotel each morning.
    • If at all possible, the team will want to remain on campus for lunch, with the ideal arrangement to have lunch catered either in the workroom or in an adjacent room.
    • The EPP should suggest a variety of restaurants within easy driving distance of the hotel for dinner each night.

Interviews: So Important in a CAEP Site Visit

Generate a list of individuals who can respond accurately and confidently to team members’ questions. Typical examples include:

      • Dean
      • Assessment Director
      • Field Experiences Coordinator
      • Full-Time Faculty
      • Key Adjunct Faculty
      • Current candidates representing multiple programs
      • Program completers representing multiple programs
      • Cooperating teachers from field experiences
      • Clinical supervisors
      • P-12 partners (i.e., superintendents, principals, teachers, etc.)

Onsite Interview Rooms

      • Depending on final schedule, site team members may need to use 3 rooms simultaneously.
      • There must be a door for private conversations and deliberations.
      • EPP representatives should not attend interviews with candidates, program completers, or cooperating teachers
      • EPP should prepare sign-in sheets for each interview.
      • A staff member should get all participants to sign in and then leave the room.
      • All sign-in sheets should be sent to the site team lead.
      • Requests for Additional Information or Data: All requests should flow from and back to the site team lead.

Advanced Preparation is Key to a Successful CAEP Site Visit

This list may feel exhausting, but it’s not exhaustive. I have included only the most essential items here. Remember–advanced preparation is one key to a successful site visit. University staff should do their homework and know what is required. Get organized. Appoint someone with experience to coordinate the event. Start well in advance. And if in doubt, hire a consultant. Each institution’s success depends in no small part to their ability to earn accreditation. This process is quite complex and should never be taken lightly.

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in higher education quality assurance, educator preparation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant specializing in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). 

Twitter: @RRossFisher

Email: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com 

 

Top Graphic Credit: Scott Graham on Unsplash

CAEP Data Collection & COVID-19

CAEP Data Collection

According to the most current COVID-19 information we have, there are now almost 4 million college students in the United States whose institutions have either transitioned quickly to an online learning environment or have shut their doors entirely for several weeks. While definitely a challenging undertaking, it’s doable. Most students will be able to weave their way through the bumps in the road to successfully complete the spring semester. However, Colleges of Education faculty grapple with how to maintain quality assurance during the COVID-19 crisis. The nation’s only accrediting body recognized by the US Department of Education is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  A major aspect of CAEP’s expectations is data collection. 

CAEP Data Collection: Continuous Program Improvement

CAEP requires continuous program improvement based on ongoing data review and analysis. Institutions must look for patterns and trends over time in order to identify specific strengths and weaknesses within each teacher licensure program. Once gaps are determined, action must be taken to shore up those weaknesses. 

Continuous program improvement is dependent upon reliable data that have been harvested from valid assessments. That’s why educator preparation providers (EPPs) must select key assessments for each licensure program. They must then gather, review, and analyze data from those assessments per an established cadence or periodicity. 

CAEP’s Three Data Cycles

CAEP requires three cycles of data for analysis in preparation for an accreditation site visit. While CAEP leaves it up to each EPP to define, institutions often count one academic year as representing one cycle of data. Other institutions count a cycle as one semester. A few institutions have “rolling registrations” meaning they enroll new candidates each month. Those institutions sometimes define a cycle as being the equivalent of 8 weeks or perhaps a six-month term. Regardless, institutions must collect data regardless of circumstance–and that includes exceptional circumstances such as COVID-19.

The Dilemma COE Faculty Face with CAEP Data Collection

College of Education faculty and administrators are grappling with how to continue collecting the kind of data they need for CAEP’s continuous program improvement model. For example, what happens when local P-12 school districts close, and teacher candidates are unable to complete their required observations or early field experience requirements? Even worse, what if candidates are unable to complete their student teaching? In addition to completing required observations, reflections and lesson plan designs, what will happen if teacher candidates are unable to complete video clips of them teaching a lesson? These are all very real concerns, and faculty must come together to address them. But what are best practices in situations like this, and what should be avoided? 

Knee-Jerk Reaction #1: This is Beyond Our Control, So We’re Off the Hook

A very common reaction to situations like COVID-19 is to give in to the circumstance and throw our hands up: 

This is beyond our control, so we’re going to do nothing. Surely CAEP will understand and give us a pass. Wrong. So very wrong.

While your challenges are difficult and frustrating, keep in mind that all other Colleges of Education are experiencing the same thing. While that should bring some level of comfort, it does not come with a “free pass” from CAEP. This accreditor cannot (and should not) lower expectations, even in times like these. Why? Because like all difficult situations, this too shall pass--and those teacher candidates will eventually complete their programs and graduate. They will land their first teaching job where they will embark upon a career of shaping young lives. Will watering down teacher requirements be fair to those young students? 

Knee-Jerk Reaction #2: Just Collect Some Data–ANY Data

Some faculty will be tempted to act out of desperation to just “collect some data” for the purpose of checking a box to say they have completed their CAEP data collection requirements. It may not be useful for monitoring the quality of programs or making improvements, but it’s collected anyway just so they can have something to report for this cycle.

For example, if the local P-12 schools are shut down and candidates are unable to teach a required lesson, some faculty may go so far as to allow candidates to “teach” the lesson to their pets, or to a cooperative audience of stuffed animals. Candidates would then view their video and write a reflection of their “teaching”. Think I’m kidding? Think again.

To have candidates quickly throw together a video or complete an exercise just for the sake of checking off a box doesn’t make sense. What possible insight can candidates glean about the experience? Moreover, what insight could faculty members surmise about the strength of their program using such practices? 

A Reasoned Approach to CAEP Data Collection & COVID-19

 As experienced, highly trained educator preparation providers, we know the futility in making knee-jerk reactions, and we know CAEP will maintain high expectations. But, what’s the best approach to take? The logistics will vary from institution to institution, but here’s a rule of thumb that applies across the board: 

Any effort to collect data that doesn’t result in something useful is a wasted effort. 

We must always return to the purpose of our policies, procedures, and practices: Why are we doing this? What’s the intended end result? If the purpose is to identify strengths and weaknesses, look for patterns & trends, and make continuous program improvements, then we must make sure those policies, procedures, and practices will help us to achieve those goals. 

In challenging times, COE faculty should put their professional hats on and look at this as an opportunity for creative problem solving. They should consider other data collection methods that would yield reliable results. 

Who knows? They may be able to come up with some CAEP data collection methods that they hadn’t even thought of before. Those methods that may be far better than the ones they are using now. However, they won’t know unless they are willing to solve this problem together, as experienced, highly competent professional educators.  

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                       

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: membersuite.com 

The Dominoes That Didn’t Have to Fall: Vatterott College, the ECA, and Others Like Them

Vatterott and the ECA

Vatterott College couldn’t have found a better partner than the Education Corporation of America (ECA), according to its president Rene Crosswhite. In a press release, she stressed that schools under the umbrella of Vatterott Educational Centers “…will be strengthened through this partnership for the benefit of our students. We believe the acquisition will provide a bright future for VEC, and it should be relatively seamless for faculty, administrators and students.”

That was January 11, 2018. The acquisition didn’t happen, and Vatterott closed its doors without warning on December 17th.

Most of the students, faculty and staff at the 17 Vatterott campuses located across the Midwest learned of their school’s closing when they arrived on campus; others heard about it from friends and colleagues as the news began to spread like wildfire. They weren’t the only ones who were caught off-guard – VEC notified the U.S. Department of Education and various state departments of higher education of the immediate closures on that same day.

In its notification letter to students, Vatterott officials laid the blame at the feet of the federal government citing, “…the U.S. Department of Education recently decided to significantly increase the restrictions on Vatterott’s participation in the federal financial aid programs.”  The letter went on to say that as a result of the USDOE’s decision, Vatterott was unable to continue to operate, and was prevented from completing its planned sale to the ECA.

But there are two problems with Vatterott’s version of the story.

 

First, despite repeated warnings over several years, they lost their accreditation due to poor academic quality and financial instability.

Effective December 5, 2018, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) voted to withdraw Vatterott’s accreditation. However, this came as no surprise to Vatterott administrators – they had been well aware of their accreditor’s concerns for quite some time. VEC leadership had been given a formal warning by the ACCSC as early as December 2016 due to excessive turnover in management and student achievement outcomes across multiple programs that continued to be below that regulating body’s benchmarks.

A system-wide warning from the Commission was issued in February 2017, followed by another notice of continued warning in August of that same year. Based on abysmal student graduation and employment rates, the ACCSC made the decision in November 2017 to force the Vatterott Berkley, Missouri campus to stop enrolling students in one program and to cap the enrollments of four others. Effective December 31, 2017, the St. Joseph, Missouri campus closed. In each case, the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the departments of higher education in each of the states where Vatterott Educational Systems, Inc. operated were notified of the accreditor’s concerns.

By May 2018, the situation had worsened to the point that the Commission made the decision to move the entire Vatterott system from “warning” to “probation” status, citing continued low student achievement, high management turnover, and financial instability concerns. On June 8, 2018, two campuses in Iowa and Kansas closed.

Finally, the decision was made to withdraw Vatterott’s accreditation during the ACCSC’s December 2018 meeting. According to the notification letter sent to the institution, Vatterott administrators could have chosen to appeal the decision and get serious about making necessary improvements. Instead, they decided to cease operations and blindside their students, faculty, and staff.

Vatterott and the ECA Lose Their Accreditation

Second, the Education Corporation of America (ECA), which was planning to purchase Vatterott, lost its own accreditation at nearly the same time, was denied initial accreditation by another agency, and suddenly shut down its campuses, leaving approximately 20,000 students and thousands of faculty and staff out in the cold. The reason? Poor academic quality and financial instability.

The ECA was a parent company of Virginia College, LLC, which operated 69 campuses in 18 states as Virginia College, Brightwood Career Institute, Brightwood College, Ecotech Institute, and the Golf Academy of America; all had been accredited under the Virginia College, LLC umbrella by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), a regulatory body that specializes in putting its seal of approval on for-profit institutions. It should be noted that this body has faced its own set of challenges, with the Obama administration removing federal recognition of ACICS as an accrediting agency due to lax and non-compliant quality assurance practices, although Education Secretary Betsy DeVos permanently reinstated its federal recognition in November 2018.

Because the future of ACICS was in jeopardy, the bottom line of institutions accredited by that agency would be negatively impacted, meaning at some point students enrolled in their programs would be ineligible to receive federal financial aid. Very few students enrolled in the various entities owned by the ECA could afford to attend without receiving significant financial aid and ECA was dependent on those tuition dollars to keep the doors open and the lights on. To that end, ECA made the decision to seek accreditation through another quality assurance agency that serves for-profit institutions– the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET). However, that effort was unsuccessful and resulted in ACCET denying ECA’s initial accreditation, citing the institution’s non-compliance in 19 standards covering a broad spectrum pertaining to academic quality, financial procedures, and organizational structure.

Two months later, ECA leadership received a show-cause directive from its original accrediting body ACICS, after it learned of the company’s dire financial problems that had resulted in lawsuits and possible bankruptcy. After being unable to make a convincing argument that it was financially stable, ECA’s accreditation was withdrawn by suspension. The next day, the ECA notified the USDOE that it planned to close its doors at all campuses by December 18.

Similar to Vatterott, in his notification letter to students ECA President & CEO Stu Reed blamed the company’s woes on added requirements placed upon it by the USDOE, although he did not elaborate on what those additional requirements were. He went on to say that those requirements, “…resulted in an inability to acquire additional capital to operate our schools.”

 

Vatterott and the ECA: Two Failed Companies, Many Similarities

Through its acquisition by the ECA, president Rene Crosswhite stated that Vatterott’s programs would be strengthened, and that its students would benefit. After all, their programs, procedures, and organizational structure were alike in a lot of ways, making it a relative seamless transition for all. It turns out that the two for-profit entities shared other similarities: Poor management, high turnover rates, low academic quality, unacceptable student success rates, and roller coaster-like financial instability.

There is rarely a single reason for the kind of systemic failure experienced by Vatterott Educational Centers and the Educational Corporation of America. Managing campuses in multiple states can be challenging for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is complying with programmatic and quality assurance practices required within each state entity. Regulations across state departments of higher education can vary widely and are subject to change as new laws are written and statutes approved. However, both institutions willingly made the decision to operate multiple campuses across multiple states. Furthermore, along with every other institution of higher education in the nation, they were responsible for monitoring, understanding, and complying with federal regulations which are also subject to periodic review and change.  In other words, laying blame at the feet of the federal government is not a viable excuse for the failure of VEC nor ECA.

Red Flags

In addition to similar concerns cited by their respective accreditors, these two institutions shared something else in common:

Vatterott and the ECA

 

President Crosswhite:  According to Vatterott President Crosswhite’s LinkedIn page, she has a master’s degree in Health Administration and is a licensed CPA. Ms. Crosswhite worked primarily in financial oversight for various hospitals before joining Vatterott Educational Centers in 2013 as its Chief Financial Officer; she held that post until March 2016 when she took over as President. Ms. Crosswhite described her role by stating, “As President, I am responsible for all aspects of the college including Academics, Operations, Marketing, Regulatory, Compliance, Financial Aid, Information Technology and Finance.”  As stated previously, Vatterott received its first formal warning from its accreditor in December 2016, three years after Ms. Crosswhite joined the company’s leadership team.

CEO Reed:  ECA’s chief executive Stu Reed holds a master’s degree in management. He joined the Educational Corporation of America in October 2014 as Chief Operating Officer and served in that capacity for four months before transitioning to CEO in January 2015. Prior to that, Mr. Reed held positions at IBM, Motorola, and Sears. His LinkedIn page lists Management, Process Improvement, and Customer Satisfaction as his top skills.

So, Who’s to Blame?

 

Executive Level Leadership

President Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk in the oval office with a message as applicable today as it was during his administration. That sign said, “The Buck Stops Here.” Thus, the responsibility for any institution’s success or failure lands squarely on the shoulders of its executive leader. While numerous faculty and staff may be tasked with specific roles within an organization, the president or CEO is the person ultimately responsible for that institution’s overall performance outcomes. However, there are other entities who could have done more to support both Vatterott and the ECA as problems began to be revealed.

Accrediting Bodies

The primary role of accrediting bodies such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), and Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET) can be summed up with two words — quality assurance. By granting an institution accreditation, these bodies are placing a seal of approval on that institution’s programs, faculty, financial stability, and outcomes. In essence, accreditors serve as consumer watchdogs to protect students and to ensure that institutions provide high-quality educational experiences by meeting specific standards. It is the responsibility of accreditors to hold institutions accountable when those standards are not met.

In the case of Vatterott Educational Centers and the Educational Corporation of America, it appears as though ACCSC and ACCIS accountability mechanisms were not effective in protecting students and ensuring high-quality educational experiences. These institutions were allowed to operate for years despite significant concerns and as a result, thousands of students trying to make a better life for themselves and their families now find themselves deep in debt with credits that may or may not transfer to another school. Betrayal of trust seems to be an understatement in this context.

Federal and State Departments of Education

Governmental and regulatory agencies must also share responsibility for the failure of these two institutions and others like them. After all, it is those very agencies that grant authorization to operate after an institution submits an application and completes a lengthy review process. Earning state program approval requires yet another layer of scrutiny. Typically, state departments of higher education and the U.S. Department of Education require annual reports that provide updated information about an institution’s programs, such as enrollment, retention, and graduation rates; employment data, and student performance on examinations required for state licensure or certification.

What accountability measures did the USDOE and each state department of higher education have in place to monitor the quality of Vatterott College and all the various colleges operating under the ECA umbrella? Since each was approved to operate by those entities, do they share no responsibility in protecting students who enroll?

 

USDOE’s Recommendations

Per the directive of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the USDOE recently published two white papers targeted at accreditation and higher education. However, in Rethinking Higher Education, many of the department’s recommendations may actually do little for quality assurance – some focus on empowering institutions and innovators to an even greater extent, such as:

  • Provide regulatory relief by removing overreaching regulatory burdens, revising costly or ambiguous regulations, and providing a greater understanding of Department expectations concerning regulatory compliance;
  • Carefully construct accountability measures that take into account the unique mission of an institution and the needs and goals of its students;
  • Ensure that accreditors evaluate institutional quality in the context of the students an institution serves and the institution’s unique mission;
  • Reform the accreditation system to promote change and innovation, to allow accrediting agencies to accommodate educational innovation, and to reduce the cost of quality assurance; and
  • Identify new ways to expedite approvals for new programs and program modifications in order to keep pace with changing technologies and employer demands.

While the students at most colleges and universities could benefit from such reforms, predatory institutions where turning a profit is the top priority could take advantage of the latitude offered by the USDOE in these recommendations.

 

Common Sense Solutions Needed

Unfortunately, very little can be done to help the thousands of students who put their trust in the schools run by Vatterott Educational Centers and the Educational Corporation of America. The USDOE may or may not forgive their student loans, and the various state departments of higher education may or may not assist them with finding other schools who will accept their credits for transfer. For now, the extent of support seems to be mostly limited to posting a fact sheet about the school’s closure along with referral to numerous links and phone numbers for students to wade through on their own. One state site encourages these students to “explore their options for continuing their education” while another provides a link to that state’s Attorney General’s office if students wish to file a formal complaint. This is unacceptable, but a few common-sense steps could start to make a difference. For example:

Learning from Those Who Are Most Impacted

Lawyers, governmental staffers, accreditors, and political leaders should not be making regulatory recommendations and decisions without truly understanding how the lives of students, faculty, businesses, and communities will be impacted. Instead, a “best practice” recommendation is to host an ongoing series of roundtable discussions about student and workforce needs, academic quality indicators, consumer protection, etc. These discussions need to involve all stakeholder groups, and their input should be taken seriously. In many instances, those “in the trenches” often have the best insights and solutions.

Identifying the Root Cause

Since 2016, approximately 173 colleges and universities have shut their doors; 75 were for-profit institutions. We can and must do a better job of ensuring the fiscal health and academic quality of our colleges and universities. In order to do that, we’ve got to take a serious look at each institution and determine the reason(s) for their failure. After identifying patterns of failing institutions, agencies can create a set of red flags to identify at-risk schools. For example:

  • Does the school have enrollment quotas?
  • Are there open enrollment policies that accept almost all applicants, regardless of whether students demonstrated a propensity for success?
  • What are the student retention and graduation rates? If the rates are poor, are they across all programs, or specific to certain ones?
  • On average, must the school’s graduates have to take their state licensure examination more than twice before passing?
  • Has the institution had continued high rates of faculty and/or leadership turnover?
  • From an employer perspective, does the school prepare its graduates well for their chosen career?
  • From an alumni perspective, does the school provide a high-quality educational experience that is relevant and meaningful to their chosen career?
  • How much prior experience do executive leaders have working within a similar institution?

 

Triaging the Wounds of Vatterott, the ECA, and Others Like Them

Accreditors and governmental agencies should do more to hold institutions accountable. Going through an accreditation review or state approval process can be rigorous, but submitting an annual report containing basic information without follow up is simply not effective, as evidenced by the fate of Vatterott and the ECA.

No institution should be allowed to continue to operate poorly for months or years. That approach helps no one – not the institution, not businesses counting on a skilled workforce, and certainly not students. When there are concerns about an institution’s performance, accreditation staff should establish a system to provide guidance and support as needed. A triage model could be implemented based on the level of concern: Cuts and scrapes are easy to take care of, but an institution should never be allowed to digress to the level of intensive care or hospice without significant intervention.

Shared Responsibility, Shared Accountability

Simply stated, all entities should be working together as partners toward achieving successful outcomes. Institutions are responsible for innovations, operations and data-driven decision making with the goals of continuous program improvement. Federal and state departments of education serve as the umbrella for authorizing those institutions to operate, while accrediting bodies must set high expectations, ensure standards are met, and provide assistance to institutions that are struggling. Each entity shares in an institution’s success and likewise, in its failure.

 

Vatterott and the ECA: KEY EVENTS

 

Vatterott and the ECA: RELATED RESOURCES

 

OTHER IMPORTANT SOURCES

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in higher education quality assurance, educator preparation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant specializing in the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). 

Twitter: @RRossFisher

Email: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com 

               

 

 

Top image credit: lapertenencia.wordpress.com

Video Presentation: Practical Strategies for CAEP Site Visit Preparation (Segment 2)

Is your institution gearing up for an accreditation site visit in the next year or two? Not quite sure where to begin? If so, please check out my video presentation entitled, Practical Strategies for CAEP Site Visit Preparation. The presentation has been broken into two segments:

Segment #1 provides an overview of the accreditation process, focusing in particular on the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

Segment #2 provides very practical information and suggestions for what staff can do to increase the likelihood of a smooth and successful site visit.

Here you can access Segment #2:

[wpvideo 2d1WMSxF]

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Video Presentation: Practical Strategies for CAEP Site Visit Preparation (Segment 1)

Is your institution gearing up for an accreditation site visit in the next year or two? Not quite sure where to begin? If so, please check out my video presentation entitled, Practical Strategies for CAEP Site Visit Preparation. The presentation has been broken into two segments:

Segment #1 will provide an overview of the accreditation process, focusing in particular on the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

Segment #2 provides very practical information and suggestions for what staff can do to increase the likelihood of a smooth and successful site visit.

Here you can access Segment #1:

[wpvideo YG8qHUDa]

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Accreditation Site Visits: Dare to Prepare!

Let’s face it: Accreditation is stressful. There’s nothing pleasant or enjoyable about the process. It’s one of those things that institutions must have in order to keep the doors open and classrooms or hospital beds filled, but it’s about as dearly loved as a root canal. Without anesthesia.

Institutions seeking the seal of quality assurance approval through a regional, national, or functional accrediting body often focus almost exclusively on writing the self-study report and overlook the amount of time and advanced planning needed to prepare for the site visit itself. There is an old saying that, “It’s the little foxes that spoil the vine” and this is so true in the context of accreditation site visits. Many times, details that may seem to be minute or inconsequential can have a significant impact on the success of a site visit.

Does your educational institution have an upcoming site visit? I can provide you and your staff with lots of practical tips that are essential to success, yet often overlooked. We can talk about essential elements to success such as:

  • Creating a project management plan;
  • Developing an effective communication protocol;
  • Holding regular team scrums;
  • Technology tools;
  • Food & lodging for the visiting team;
  • Physical arrangements for the onsite review;
  • Training interviewees;
  • The value of mock visits; and
  • Much more

 

The accreditation process likely won’t ever be enjoyable, but it can be manageable. I’m glad to help you and your team be at your very best so that you’ll be ready for this important event!

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and educational agencies in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, leadership, outcomes-based performance, making data-driven decisions, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about various issues related to academic excellence through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

 

Uniqueness vs. Accreditation: Why Must We Choose?

In the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Higher Education, Mark LaCelle-Peterson introduces the educator preparation community to a new way of thinking about quality assurance and accreditation of programs. In the piece, LaCelle-Peterson challenges the notion that measuring the quality of an education program through a compliance lens really isn’t necessary—in fact, it can sometimes inhibit quality by forcing programs to demonstrate adherence to a rigid set of standards and criteria that may or may not be an appropriate fit for all programs given the diversity of missions, visions, populations served, and instructional delivery approaches. For example, what may be appropriate criteria for measuring the quality of a program that serves 18-22-year-old students on a residential suburban campus may be quite different from one that serves learners whose average age is 39 and who pursue their academic studies online within a competency-based educational model. Both prepare educators. Both are committed to quality. But when it comes to making judgments about those programs, one size just doesn’t seem to fit all—and what’s more, why should it? Why is it necessary to have a single set of standards and criteria that all programs must adhere to?

It seems to me that as a community of educators we figured out a long time ago that creating one lesson plan and teaching to students in the middle was simply not an effective approach—nor was it ethical, because that model failed to consider the needs of students who did not fit into a pre-determined mold.  Today we encourage our teacher candidates to not only acknowledge the differences in students, but to embrace that diversity, and to celebrate it—because we know that a diverse group of learners contributes to a dynamic and robust community—one that thrives because of its diversity, not in spite of it.

Quality assurance measures through an appropriate accreditation model can be instrumental to preparation programs’ success through data-driven decision making, continuous program review, and collaboration within the community. Program leaders should not have to put their uniqueness on a shelf in pursuit of accreditation.

–rrf

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in education transformation, teacher preparation, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter and writer, she currently supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as educational systems design, online learning experiences, competency-based education, and accreditation. Roberta also blogs about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Is Being Accredited Really That Important When Selecting a College?

We all hear and read about the benefits of earning a college degree: We make more money over a lifetime; we get better jobs; we receive company-paid benefits; we tend to be happier and healthier overall. However, choosing the right college or university can be quite daunting, and yet it’s terribly important, because not all institutions are alike, and the quality can vary widely. While there are lots of things to consider such as cost, degree programs, scheduling, and the like, one thing many college students often overlook is whether or not the university is accredited.

There are many types of accreditation–you may likely hear terms such as regional accreditation, national accreditation, functional or programmatic accreditation, and sometimes even state accreditation. Each plays an important role in quality assurance for specific programs or an entire institution but here’s a strong recommendation:

Don’t ever take a single course from an institution that is not accredited. Never. Ever.

While no guarantee of perfection, accredited institutions have provided certain levels of assurance to respected bodies within academia that students will be taken care of. Non-accredited institutions have had no one looking over their shoulder, digging deep and looking in various academic or financial nooks and crannies; they can accept your money with absolutely no guarantee that the course or degree that you completed will be worth anything at all.

Plus, if you complete courses from an unaccredited institution, there is no guarantee that those courses will be accepted should you decide to transfer to another university later on. Even worse, if you go the distance and complete an entire degree from an institution that’s not accredited, you may find that many employers or graduate schools will not recognize that degree–in their eyes it will be like you don’t have a degree at all–but you’ll still have those student loans to pay back just the same.

Here is an entertaining yet informative video that clears up some of the confusion:

ASPA 2016 Explainer

You should be able to choose a college or university that fits your particular needs:

  • faith-based
  • public
  • private
  • traditional brick & mortar
  • online
  • non-profit
  • for-profit

Regardless of which you choose, make sure it’s a program that is accredited.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

 

Educator Prep: There’s a Better Way.

Numerous sources can point to a teacher shortage across the United States, with some areas having a much greater need than others. With some exceptions, Elementary and Social Studies teachers tend to be in greatest supply but in least demand, while the converse is true for Special Education, English Language Learning, Mathematics, and Science teachers. School districts typically have a much harder time filling teaching positions in urban districts, in Title I schools, and in remote rural areas. In many instances, a lack of experienced, qualified teachers in those areas forces districts to fill those classrooms with individuals who may be well-intentioned but lack sufficient training and cultural competence to be successful. Moreover, those districts often fail to provide adequate mentoring and support in the first two years of employment which results in new teachers feeling isolated and without tools to succeed. Consequently, we typically see a high turnover rate in those areas which has a negative impact on students and the local community at-large over time.

Various state departments of education have taken steps to address this problem. California has recently committed $25 million for scholarship money to help alleviate the teacher shortage by using a “grow your own” model. They are distributing this money to 25 school districts and county offices of education to help 5,000 support staff members earn their teaching credentials while continuing to work at their schools. While the idea has some merit, I see big gaps in the approach. Specifically, they are granting funds only to individuals who complete their teaching license requirements at one of the California State University campuses; this severely restricts the type of training these individuals will receive and it only supports the enrollment of those campuses. Moreover, EdSource reports 1,000 eligible employees can get stipends of $4,000 per year over the course of the five-year grant, which could cover all or most of the cost to enroll in those select institutions, depending on how many courses these employees take per semester. Acknowledging it could take up to five years doesn’t make a convincing case that these programs are innovative or cutting edge—in fact they are likely just serving as a feeder into their current programs. So, for continuing business as usual, these institutions are reaping the reward of 1,000 new enrollments and $25 million. The latest initiative proposed in California is to offer teachers who have taught at least 5 years in the state freedom from state income tax. While an interesting idea, I don’t see it encouraging sufficient numbers of individuals to enter or to remain in the teaching profession. Plus, it could have a negative impact on a state already short on cash.

The state of Nevada has attempted to alleviate the teacher shortage, most severe in the Clark County School District located in Las Vegas. School officials in that district, reportedly the third largest in the nation, face the daunting task each year of hiring approximately 2500 teachers. At the time of this writing, there are currently 672 openings for licensed teachers. The Nevada Department of Education approved an Alternative Route to Licensure (ARL) program designed to alleviate shortages across the state but it seems to be only a partial solution in its present form. What’s of equal concern is that once hired, districts struggle to retain teachers for a variety of reasons.

In addition to approaches that focus on state funding and providing paths to licensure through nontraditional means, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has recently begun looking at teacher preparation itself; staff have initiated statewide conversations amongst educators regarding how new teachers should be prepared. And of course, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has established itself as a national leader on educator quality and preparation through research and rankings of educator preparation programs.

 So what’s the answer?

The solution to having an adequate supply of qualified, well-prepared teachers who will positively impact the lives, learning, and development of their students is not simplistic—it is complicated, and that’s why no one has solved it yet. However, I believe one answer lies in how teachers are prepared. While many educator prep programs do a fine job, many do not and new teachers are simply not ready to enter the classroom, hitting the ground running. They have absolutely no idea how to effectively manage a classroom, deal with an angry parent, meet the needs of EVERY learner in their class, and so on. There is an apparent disconnect between what is being taught in colleges of education and the reality of teaching in today’s classrooms. Is one reason because those responsible for preparing those future teachers have little to no current teaching experience themselves? Have they stepped foot in a P-12 classroom in the past five years? Have they cleaned up vomit all over desks and the floor? Have they done before and after school bus duty? Have they had a student arrested in their class? Have they had to bring comfort to a child who is homeless? I think that while credentialed education faculty are well-intentioned, knowledgeable, and experienced, their skills may not be what’s needed in today’s classrooms.

I have been developing some specific ideas regarding how to train new educators some of which challenge the current preparation model. I’m working on creating an educator preparation program that could work for new teachers as well as new educational leaders that has features unique to any other program I’ve reviewed. Some would call it an alternative program, but I really don’t like that word and would love to see it disassociated with education preparation. Want to know more? Interested in partnering with me on a project of immense importance that is built from the ground level up on academic excellence? Let me hear from you…

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at www.robertarossfisher.com 

 

 

CAEP Site Visit Logistics

Preparing for an accreditation site visit is always stressful for university faculty and staff, even under the best of circumstances. Depending on whether we’re talking about a regional accrediting body, a state compliance audit, or a discipline-specific accreditor, there are certain processes and procedures that must be followed. For the sake of brevity, this piece will focus on one discipline–that of teacher preparation–using the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) as the sample accrediting body.

There are some important topics to be covered during a pre-visit conference call between the site team lead, the education preparation provider (EPP), and state representatives. By the end of this call, all parties should be “on the same page” and should be clear regarding what to expect in the upcoming site visit. Here are the topics that are essential to cover:

  • Any general questions the EPP has regarding completion of the Addendum
  • Confirm Addendum submission date
  • Review and revise draft visit schedule
  • Travel Details
    • Confirm preferred airport
    • If arrival and departure times coincide, team prefers to pick up a rental car at the airport and provide their own transportation during the site visit.
    • Otherwise, EPP will need to make ground transportation arrangements.
  • Reminder per CAEP guidelines: No receptions, banquets, poster sessions, dinners with EPP representatives, etc.
  • School Visits
    • Not required, but generally requested by the team if there are concerns regarding clinical experiences. Typically limit of 2 (from different grade levels such as 1 Elem & 1 HS)
    • Should not require significant drive time
    • EPP should provide a guide (typically faculty) to drive and serve as host/hostess
    • Usually should take no more than 1 hour on-site at school
  • Work Room at Hotel and on Campus
    • Must be secure and private; lockable.
    • Only site team members and state representatives are to enter the work rooms.
    • Conference table large enough to accommodate all team members and state representatives
    • Printer, secure wifi, LCD or HDTV projector
    • Shredder
    • Basic office supplies (i.e., stapler, paper clips, post-its, note pads, pens, highlighters, etc.)
  • Food/Snacks
    • There should be healthy snacks and beverages (i.e., bottled water, coffee, soda) in the work room at the hotel and on campus.
    • The team will eat breakfast at the hotel each morning.
    • If at all possible, the team will want to remain on campus for lunch, with the ideal arrangement to have lunch catered either in the workroom or in an adjacent room.
    • The EPP should suggest a variety of restaurants within easy driving distance of the hotel for dinner each night.
  • Interviews
    • Generate interviewee list. Examples include:
      • Dean
      • Assessment Director
      • Field Experiences Coordinator
      • Full-Time Faculty
      • Key Adjunct Faculty
      • Current candidates representing multiple programs
      • Program completers representing multiple programs
      • Cooperating teachers from field experiences
      • Clinical supervisors
      • P-12 partners (i.e., superintendents, principals, teachers, etc.)
      • Other:
    • Interview Rooms
      • Depending on final schedule, 3 rooms may be needed simultaneously.
      • Should have a door for privacy
      • EPP representatives should not attend interviews with candidates, program completers, or cooperating teachers
      • EPP should prepare sign-in sheets for each interview.
      • A staff member should be responsible for get all participants to sign in and then leave the room.
      • All sign-in sheets should be sent to the site team lead.
    • Requests for Additional Information or Data
      • All requests should flow from and back to the site team lead.

There will be additional items to discuss but these are the most essential. Remember–advanced preparation is one key to a successful site visit. Do your homework and know what is required. Get organized. Appoint someone with experience to coordinate the event. Start well in advance. And if in doubt, hire a consultant. Earning accreditation is crucial to an institution’s overall success and should never be taken lightly.

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, CAEP accreditation, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant and adjunct professor.

 

Is There Room for Two Accrediting Bodies in Educator Preparation?

Depending on their state’s statutes, many US educator preparation providers may soon have a choice regarding which accrediting body they want to evaluate the quality of their programs.

The Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP), developed primarily by an advisory council and a small team of staff members with previous accreditation experience, have finalized a process by which the quality of educator preparation providers (EPPs) will be reviewed.  If this sounds strikingly similar to the regulatory body that already serves in this capacity, that’s because it is. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) was birthed as a result of consolidation between the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC); it became fully operational as the nation’s sole accrediting body for educator preparation providers in mid-2013.

Similar to the CAEP model, AAQEP is partnering with several state departments of education for the purpose of streamlining and codifying expectations for program quality. According to its Spring 2018 newsletter, four providers are planning for AAQEP accreditation reviews in early 2019. As part of its adopted policy, the new body recognizes the accreditation conferred by the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, and any accreditor recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or by the Secretary of the United States Department of Education.

CAEP, on the other hand, is currently the only programmatic accrediting body for educator preparation that’s recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).    It also has the benefit of being in existence for five years and has had a chance to test its policies, procedures, and evaluation framework. Numerous changes have been made during that time, mostly because of feedback from institutions that have undergone program review. While providers embrace the need for quality assurance, many have expressed frustration by a lack of consistent messaging by CAEP staff and point to a perception that key elements of the program review process have been changed with little notice or explanation. CAEP leadership indicate they are committed to improving their system and seem to be taking steps to improve communication with providers but many challenges remain.

Common Goals, Different Approaches

While each body has developed its own set of program review protocols and standards, the goal is essentially the same – to ensure that educators are fully prepared to meet the needs of students in 21st Century schools. In order to make this happen, educator preparation providers responsible for training teachers and school leaders must work closely with P-12 school districts to provide high-quality learning experiences from curriculum that is current and standards-based. Performance expectations should be high with appropriate academic support, guidance, and mentoring as needed. Subject- and grade-appropriate field and clinical experiences should play an integral role in every program, and providers should monitor the success of their program candidates as well as the success of the P-12 students being served. And finally, an overarching goal for all providers must be a deep commitment to continuous program and systematic improvement.

Standards-Based Frameworks

While both bodies rely on a standards-based framework for program review, those standards are not identical. CAEP adopted five standards designed to evaluate programs that lead to initial and advanced level teaching credentials:

  • Content and Pedagogical Knowledge
  • Clinical Partnerships and Practice
  • Candidate Quality, Recruitment, and Selectivity
  • Program Impact
  • Provider Quality, Continuous Improvement, and Capacity

AAQEP, on the other hand, bases program review on a set of four standards:

  • Completer Performance
  • Completer Professional Competence and Growth
  • Quality Program Practices
  • Program Engagement in System Improvement

 

One functional accrediting body for EPPs is enough; why would we want to add another?

Programs want options for greater individualization. Not all schools of education are created alike, and while they strive to attain the same goal of preparing teacher and school leader candidates for their careers, they enjoy a variety of missions, visions, program designs, and delivery systems. For example, a completely online program operating in multiple states may have a very different model from one serving teacher candidates in a traditional, face-to-face learning environment. One that focuses on social equity and recruits 18-22-year-olds may take a very different approach from an alternative preparation provider that recruits adult learners who already have a bachelor’s degree. In other words, while a one-size-fits-all approach to accreditation doesn’t always support a provider’s diversity or uniqueness.

There’s a risk in having only one body to judge the quality of all programs. Having a monopoly is never a good idea, regardless of the enterprise. Competition ultimately helps all stakeholders to reach higher and become better. This is also true for accrediting bodies. Professional educators, preparation providers, public stakeholders, and accrediting bodies should all have a seat at the table while making important decisions about how teachers and school leaders should be trained. To do otherwise creates a risk of well-intentioned efforts that miss the mark and fail to accomplish our shared goal, which is to:

Strengthen our nation by building a well-educated society facilitated by exceptionally prepared teachers.

 

Is there really room for two accrediting bodies in educator preparation?

Will AAQEP be recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation? Will state departments of education be eager to partner with another accrediting body?  What will be the US Department of Education’s position, given that it currently recognizes neither? If given the choice, will some educator preparation providers want to be accredited only by one body, or will they choose to be accredited by both CAEP and AAQEP? Those are all questions that remain unanswered. However, if the addition of  a new accrediting body creates a space for freedom of choice and mission-specific program review while ensuring academic excellence, how can that be a bad thing?

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in education transformation, teacher preparation, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter and writer, she currently supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as educational systems design, online learning experiences, competency-based education, and accreditation. Roberta also blogs about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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The Drive-Thru Approach to Teacher Preparation

The Drive-Thru Approach to Teacher Preparation

I read yet another article about national teacher shortages; this one was entitled Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional). As a result of their desperation to staff classrooms, school district officials are putting pressure on states to relax teacher licensure requirements. In some cases, this has led to the watering down of standards and expectations. Some are taking advantage of the current climate, smelling the sweet aroma of serious revenue by offering what is essentially a drive-thru teacher preparation program: The “customer” arrives at the window, attracted by the bright lights and yummy-looking food pics. Enrollment counselors take their order and send them on. Worker bees behind the scenes serve up a program that may be of questionable or untested quality and the customer is on their way in record time. They don’t know that their fries were cold or there was no straw until they are miles down the road. Programs know such a model is cheap to build and cheap to operate; it’s easy money and there are so many students rolling through the drive-thru lane that they can afford to have some unhappy customers and still turn a profit.

In the short term, school districts are happy because they have a less difficult time hiring teachers, and program completers are happy because they’ve gotten through their program at break-neck speed and haven’t had to “waste” their time on courses they perceive as useless. However, in the long term, a host of new cyclical problems are revealed, including:

  • Individuals are admitted to the programs who really shouldn’t be—they sometimes lack the academic preparation or the professional dispositions necessary for success in the classroom.
  • Program completers are often ill-prepared to enter the classroom; they require a great deal of on-site training by the school district.
  • Many new teachers quickly become disillusioned and leave the profession because they didn’t know how challenging teaching really can be. Some leave in the middle of a school year.
  • Students often suffer due to constant turnover and lack of consistency.
  • Test scores lag and fall behind state averages; impact outcomes tend to be dismal.

 

Not all for-profit alternative certification programs are of poor quality, but many are. While accrediting bodies have recently come under greater scrutiny for their standards and expectations, many of these programs fly under the radar and are not regionally accredited*, which is the foundational accreditation any legitimate institution of higher education should attain. Some are taking the easy path to accreditation through bodies that focus mostly on career schools** such as beauty schools, truck driving schools, at-home hypnosis training, etc. just to state on their program’s website that they are accredited. These programs use “sleight of hand” language with the lay public, saying they are “accreditation eligible” which in reality means nothing but it sounds very convincing to those who are not well versed in the lingo.  Make no mistake: The drive-thru teacher preparation model is very real, and it is having a very real impact on our P-12 schools. The question is: Are we going to accept it as the new normal, or are we finally going to draw a line in the sand and insist on academic excellence for our children?

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions in areas such as accreditation, institutional effectiveness, competency-based education, and virtual teaching & learning.  Roberta can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

*The regional accreditation bodies in the United States include: (1) Higher Learning Commission (HLC); (2) Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); (3) New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE) Commission on Institutions of Higher Education; (4) Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); and (5) WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

**The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) awards accreditation to degree-granting, high school, military, and post-secondary schools. A search of accredited post-secondary schools, which would apply to alternative teacher certification programs, includes the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, At-Home Professions, and the Modern Gun School, to name a few.