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February 23, 2023 | Accreditation and self study

8 Ways to Make Your Self-Study Meaningful Beyond Accreditation

Self studies serve a number of important purposes besides reaccreditation. Taking a deeper dive into your institutional effectiveness and improvement data regularly can help you and your team foster growth and opportunities that can direct future planning and resource allocations.


Your self study is a requirement, but it’s also the perfect opportunity for meaningful reflection that can serve you before and after an accreditor comes knocking at your door. 


Once you and your team identify that you can leverage the self-study process to inform your strategic planning and support institutional improvement, you have made the process meaningful— transforming it to support your accreditation, your students and your team simultaneously.


“So often assessment has historically been driven out of compliance to the accreditor. When we approach it from that standpoint, we’re pushing this information out there, but it’s not internalizing how do we use this process to improve our performance and how do we own this process as an institution, and that is where the challenge lies.”
— Dr. Chris Davis, Vice President of Academic Services and Quality, University of Maryland Global Campus


Sounds good, but where do you begin? To start, you need to tackle the core challenges or “troublemakers” that can create tension within your self study process. 

These challenges likely include these four main troublemakers:

  • Struggle for time — A tricky foe under the best of circumstances, time becomes a challenge when you have a process that only functions when absolutely necessary. For example, you see the schedule for your next accreditation cycle and (once the stopwatch has already started) only then do you start gathering evidence or preparing your documentation. If you want your self-study to do more than just ensure you’re meeting your accreditation standards, then you need a process that is constantly in motion - even when your next accreditation is five years down the road.

  • Lack of centralization — One of the reasons it’s difficult to stay one step ahead of accreditation is centralization - or rather, the lack of it. When your evidence, workflows, documentation, and collaborators are all scattered among different channels, it’s no wonder people see accreditation as a series of deadlines rather than an ongoing process. Centralizing your self-study process will streamline these resources, make them manageable, and allow more time for thoughtful reflection and collaboration so stakeholders can improve institutional assessment and meet strategic goals.

  • Difficulty connecting evidence to outcomes — Without a centralized process, gathering evidence can already be quite tedious. But that evidence, and all the digging and goose chasing you do to find it, isn’t enough. You need a defined framework for how you’re going to track and map those artifacts to outcomes. Once you create a well-defined framework, assessment practitioners are free to take that evidence and make meaningful connections that transform your self study into a tool for intentional institutional improvement. And if you have an evidence repository to pull those artifacts from too? That just makes it even easier.

  • An undefined review process — From evidence collection to outcomes mapping, how are you engaging and managing stakeholders during the review process? Even with a centralized repository of evidence and a streamlined workflow, you still need to establish clear expectations for contributors so they know who does what, when, where, why, and how. That way, even with multiple stakeholders collaborating on a chapter or standard for your report, you can track all changes made and ensure your final result is cohesive, accurate, and reflects the story you want to tell.

Whether your institution works out of Google Docs, Sharepoint drive, or another cloud-based software, chances are you’ve come face to face with at least one of these troublemakers. While every institution and team is different, there are actions you can take to streamline your process and turn your self study into a tool for institutional improvement.

Best Practices to Complete a Successful Self Study... and Stay Ready in Between Cycles

  • Design customized forms and workflows and automate them in a platform to conduct program review, annual assessment planning and review of strategic planning goals

  • Engage your faculty and staff in the continuous improvement process using an integration with your learning management system and remove duplication of effort

  • Maintain a central repository and version control of your evidence tagged to individual standards 

  • Pull data collected in other parts of your platform to serve as evidence for your self study 

  • Document the use of assessment results for improvement, closing the loop and data driven actions 

  • Produce a local copy of your self study for use in other initiatives 

  • Collaborate with your stakeholders in writing narratives for each standard of your self study and provide peer review

  • Create a meaningful assessment process to support continuous improvement beyond the self study


“So we have been collecting information for years on what evidence supports our story, that we really do meet the standards, that we walk the walk… Now we can grab it [from our MetaBank] and say, ‘hey, I want to use this in my Middle States Self Study.’ So I’ve tagged it to Middle States, I’ve tagged it to Middle States Standard Two (which is Equity and Integrity), but meanwhile that same piece of evidence is beneficial for multiple accreditations that we have going on."
— Dr. Jane Marie Souza, Associate Vice Provost for Accreditation / Accreditation Liaison Officer, University of Rochester


The fact is, better data means more informed decisions. And with accreditation standards continuing to evolve, adopting these practices now can only benefit your institution in the long run. When continuous improvement becomes a daily practice, you can ensure you’re meeting accreditation standards while continuing to develop and meet your strategic goals to support your mission for students. Stay ready for what’s to come and position yourself for short and long term success.

Each regional accreditor is a bit different, but all of them require you to plan, collect evidence, and support the process for submitting your self study for external review. Check out these resources to get more specifics for your institution:

  • HLC

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