Quality Assurance in the Corona-Age
Quality Education used to be taken to mean "residential" or "traditional" education. The pandemic has blown that out of the water with a splash. The question still remains, however: what IS quality education and how can that quality be assured during these times?
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 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. Student externships and clinicals had to be scrapped, modified, or redesigned so that all is not lost for students who are hours away from completion.
Then there is the limitation of providing support services to students who need that physical contact to stay connected. The student support services that served as a home on campus was relegated to email communication and Zoom meetings. The financial pressures undergird AND overlay these daily struggles at institutions the nation over. These concerns, in the academic and administrative spheres, have dominated the areas of focus and rightly so. The institution’s primary responsibility should be to its students and minimizing disruption in this ever-changing reality is critical to successful completion
Amid all of this, how do you maintain compliance with your accreditors’ standards? How do you meet student achievement outcomes for 2019…especially if 2018 performance data were below requirements? 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 Microsoft Teams/Zooming and their wonders, how does the institution draft a narrative that takes the impact of COVID-19 into account without making it an excuse?
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Conducting Virtual/Hybrid Visits without Compromising Quality
In her most recent May 15, 2020, communication, Secretary Devos gave her permission to accrediting to conduct remote visits that would be followed up with a limited onsite review when it is “reasonably practicable” and which may be conducted by an agency staff or trained site visitor.
The cornerstone of accreditation is the onsite peer review process. With the unpredictability of the current pandemic, and with the Secretary’s “blessing”, agencies are tasked with evaluating how to best assure the quality of oversight in the season of abnormality.
Even with the option for virtual reviews, the challenge remains –
1. How accurate and reliable can the virtual visits be in providing sufficient information to make an accreditation decision that is compliant with CFR602.18?
2. What accrediting actions would the Council/Commission then take without the onsite review (which would happen when it is “reasonably practicable”) that is in its published standards?
3. Would a new “action category” be created or would the action be to automatically defer UNTIL the onsite review takes place?
4. What will be the agency’s guidance to its institutions/programs concerning preparing for the virtual review given the limited campus activity across the country?
Many institutions and programs are struggling to even maintain instruction and core operations which may impede their ability to sufficiently prepare for a review.
This brings into the forefront the question of equity – fairness in the review, based on a program’s or an institution’s inherent or implicit limitations. Further, the evaluation team, which is tasked with collecting information which informs the Council/Commission, must be able to conduct an assessment that is appropriate for the scope of the institution and/or programs. Of particular concern is the programs with clinical, hands-on, residency, or externship components where simulations and observations are limited in their ability to sufficiently demonstrate that competencies have been achieved.
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