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Navigating Accreditation Requirements through the Pandemic

With life as we know it seemingly descending into flames as wellness, finances, and “distancing” concerns overwhelm us all, institutions and their leaders are faced with the additional pressures of maintaining compliance with federal, accreditation, state, and the many other oversight agencies while trying to ensure the safety and well-being of their students and staff.

Stay-home orders have suspended most, if not all, on-campus activities with students forced to engage with teachers digitally from their homes – a less than ideal option for students who also work and manage families. Faculty members also struggle with the "class without walls" and "classroom in the cloud" as they learn to use tools that would help continue the learning experience. Programs with externships and clinicals had to be modified or redesigned so that all would not be lost for students who were hours away from completion and graduation.

Then there is the limitation of providing support services especially to students who need that physical contact to stay connected. The student support services department that served as a home or haven on campus was relegated to email communication and Zoom meetings. The financial pressures further weigh down on these daily struggles at institutions – private and public, “for-profit” and not-for-profit, independent and state-dependent. These concerns have dominated the areas of focus and rightly so. The institution’s primary responsibility should be to its students and minimizing the chaos in this ever-changing reality is critical to successful completion – one term at a time. 

The 2020-2021 academic year is upon us and institutions are struggling as much as they did in March when the pandemic began to influence activities. “Reopening” strategies, webinars, and best practices have done little to alleviate the fears, the dread, and the financial worry for institutions AND families. 

Amid all of this, how do you, as an institution, maintain compliance with your accreditors’ standards? How do you meet student achievement outcomes for 2020…especially if 2019/2018 performance data were below agency standards? How do you prepare for an accreditation review that has been scheduled before the pandemic? With a 2021 grant expiration, renewal applications and self-study documents are coming due – a self-study that is supposed to reflect processes and procedures that are implemented on a consistent basis. Even with Zoom and Microsoft Teams and their wonders, how does the institution draft a narrative that takes the impact of COVID-19 into account without making it an excuse? These specific accreditation concerns are additional realities for institutions that may also have had to furlough or cut staff, or whose staff members have to do life and work at home.

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