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

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.

 

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.”

 

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.

In addition to similar concerns cited by their respective accreditors, these two institutions shared something else in common: Neither of their presidents had any prior experience working in higher education.

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 VEC and 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?
  • Does the institution have open enrollment policies that accept almost all applicants, regardless of whether students demonstrated a propensity for success?
  • Does the school have poor student retention and graduation rates? If so, are these poor rates 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

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 VEC and 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.

 

KEY EVENTS

 

RELATED SOURCES

 

OTHER IMPORTANT SOURCES

 

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 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). 

 

Top image credit: lapertenencia.wordpress.com

Accreditation Stress: It’s Real, and You Need to Prepare for It.

In nearly every profession there are standards by which institutions, agencies, and programs are held accountable. State, regional, national, and profession-specific bodies determine the health and strength of an institution in a variety of ways, one of which is through an accreditation site visit. While each body’s requirements vary, accreditation is determined through a rigorous program review process. This requires a significant financial, personnel, and resource commitment on the part of each institution.

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: 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 aren’t enjoying the things you used to enjoy. 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—and 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 visit. 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. You obsess about forgetting something. You are determined to emerge victorious, regardless of the personal cost.

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, but 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 a lot of stress can be avoided by getting a jumpstart on the process. 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, so 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. That said, 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. Except in very large institutions or those that operate in multiple states, most institutions don’t have to deal with accreditation matters on a regular basis and so therefore few have a high level of confidence in that area. In some schools, new faculty are assigned to 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. Such an arrangement can actually be cost-effective, given that the institution isn’t having to pay for someone’s full-time salary, benefits, or office space.

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 be seen 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 and maintaining 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: Help them to know what to expect and make them a part of 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, but they are most definitely involved in the site visit process as a part of your support system.

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, but 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—to suddenly have nothing to do will likely lead to additional anxiety so it’s best to transition back slowly.

The bottom line is that while accreditation site visits are stressful by their very nature, they don’t have to get the best of you.

 

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 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:

 

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:

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). Roberta can be reached through Twitter (@RRossFisher), LinkedIn (Roberta Ross-Fisher), Facebook (Roberta Ross-Fisher), and email at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.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

 

Accreditation 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. However, for the sake of simplicity, this blog will focus on one discipline–that of teacher preparation–using the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) as the sample accrediting body. In this piece, I provide 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
    • 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.
      • 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.

–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

A Global Commitment to Academic Quality

There appears to be an increasing effort to ensure the academic quality of higher education institutions across the globe, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ministry of Education is leading the way in that region. Starting in early 2018, all licensed colleges and universities will be issued a star rating based on a variety of data that when considered holistically will reveal useful information regarding each institution’s quality, relevance, innovation, and efficiency. Within the context of these four pillars, determinations will be made regarding institutional teaching quality, public reputation, and internationalization (globalization), likely with a drill-down to the programmatic level. For the most part, these criteria are similar to what other nations have focused on. However, the UAE Ministry of Education has decided to take it a step further by adding another criterion by which to rate the quality of its licensed colleges and universities: that of research. Program efficacy and impact are often key indicators of an institution’s quality, and thus the UAE will also be looking at the quality, quantity, and impact of research conducted by its colleges and universities.

I find this both fascinating and encouraging. The UAE is right to hold institutions accountable for their quality of instruction, their commitment to local communities, and for their contribution to a global society. Where I believe they are breaking new ground is in the area of research—few accrediting bodies or governmental agencies have considered the important role that conducting high-quality research can and should play on the advancement of civilization. Institutions of higher learning should not only be supporting faculty members in their professional growth and development as researchers, but programs should be developed to teach students how to become researchers in their respective fields of study. And then there’s the impact piece: It’s not enough simply to conduct research—the point is to use what is learned from the findings to trigger positive change across areas that touch multiple aspects of our lives (social, educational, medical, industrial, etc.).

As they move forward I’m sure the UAE Ministry of Education as well as governmental agencies from other nations will continue to examine and refine the criteria by which they determine the quality of their educational institutions. I would like to offer a few additional thoughts for consideration:

  • Institutions of high quality should make data-driven decisions based on a combination of both qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Data should be triangulated, with both input and output data considered.
  • Data should be collected and reviewed per an established cadence; a periodicity table should be constructed whereby specific data are collected, analyzed, reviewed, interpreted, and acted upon throughout each academic year.
  • Institutions should be making decisions and connecting long-term and short-term goals that are directly related to an interpretation of their data.
  • External stakeholders such as the UAE’s Ministry of Education should be able to easily connect the dots between each institution’s data and their vision, mission, and strategic goals.
  • The efficacy of programs should be criteria-based and performance-based.
  • A portion of an institution’s efficacy should be measured by the impact its program completers has on the lives of those they touch after graduation. For example, teachers should be able to demonstrate a positive impact on the academic achievement of their students, while healthcare providers should be able to demonstrate a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of their patients. Educational policy agencies, accrediting bodies, and institutions should collaborate in advance on a definition of what types of data would be acceptable to demonstrate this positive impact.

 

There are additional things to be considered when making judgments about an institution’s quality. However, it is vital to begin the conversation so that everyone can begin working toward a common goal: To prepare current and future generations for service to others. The extent to which we will be successful in this endeavor lies in our firm commitment to academic excellence.

 

–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.

 

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). 

###

Innovation Authorizers???

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) reintroduced a bill that would create an alternative accreditation pathway for higher education institutions. The proposed legislation, entitled S.615: Higher Education Innovation Act, would give previously unaccredited institutions access to federal financial aid under a five-year pilot program. Apparently, the conditions for students in those institutions to receive financial aid are dependent upon the extent to which the institution can demonstrate positive learner outcomes.

The text of the bill refers to what we currently call accrediting bodies as innovation authorizers. If adopted as proposed, this bill could have an impact not only on higher education institutions, but on accrediting bodies themselves.

At the time of this writing, the last action taken on this proposed bill was back on March 13, 2017, where it was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. I have no idea if the bill pick up steam and move forward or not, but there are just too many unknowns at this time to truly gauge its possible impact. I suspect there will be some hefty push back from those who support traditional models of higher education and accreditation. I’m all for innovation and this may be a step in the right direction toward addressing some of our systemic challenges, but it is important to consider all possible ramifications before cutting the steering wheel too hard. Let’s get all the stakeholders together at the table and talk this out.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.

 

 

Source: Rubio Reintroduces Accreditation Bill

Accrediting Bodies: Focus on Academics, Not $$$

Seton Hall Assistant Professor Robert Kelchen raised some interesting points in a report he wrote on the topic of accreditation and its role in today’s higher education institutions. Kelchen asserted that perhaps accrediting bodies should not focus on an institution’s financial footing as a precondition for accreditation, but rather on academic quality: whether students are receiving an excellent educational experience that will have a positive impact on their lives personally and in the workplace. Federal and state government agencies, Kelchen suggested, would be more appropriate entities to monitor and ensure each institution’s financial stability since they already submit annual reports to USDOE and their state’s coordinating board for higher education authority.

I tend to agree. As someone who has considerable experience working in the area of compliance and accreditation, I can attest that site team reviewers for a whole lot of reasons are typically ill-equipped to make judgments with confidence about an institution’s financial security. They have little time to learn as much as possible about specific standards-based academic requirements, and typically site reviewers are academic volunteers from the profession without any accounting or fiscal expertise. Besides, even if they had CPAs or the equivalent on staff, who is to say that accrediting bodies should be making decisions about how much cash on hand or in reserve each institution should have? Let them focus on how well students are prepared, and let governmental agencies responsible for authorizing institutions to operate provide guidance regarding fiscal requirements.

This is already something that needs to be fixed, and as more institutions experiment with alternative instructional models such as offering micro-credentials or individualized learning options, it will be more and more difficult for accrediting bodies to keep up. The time to reconsider the role of accreditation is now.

-rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.

 

Source: What is the future of accreditation — and how do microcredentials impact it? | Education Dive