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Institutional Accreditation: Making the Process More Efficient, Effective, and Meaningful to Colleges and Universities
Institutional accreditation is a voluntary, peer-review process that is overseen through the seven institutional accreditors governed by the U.S. Department of Education. The purpose of accreditation is to ensure institutional quality standards are being met by colleges and universities. The purpose of this study was to identify how the accreditation process could be improved with foci on efficiency, effectiveness, and more meaningful impact to the institutions. Drawing on Heifetz et al.’s (2009) theory of adaptive leadership, Kotter’s (2012) accelerators and the integrated planning principles of Stephens (2017) and Immordino et al., (2016), this study employed grounded theory to discover the experiences, perceptions, and potential solutions to accreditation challenges. Within the region that is overseen by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), 23 institutional leaders including administrators and faculty from two- and four-year institutions from both the public and private sectors residing in four states were interviewed. The findings revealed several successes as well as challenges. In general, colleges using a more integrated rather than disparate-compliance approach to accreditation have found added success in all aspects of the process. The assessment of student learning remains a challenge at all levels due to a lack of clarity regarding how to design the evaluation of learning in a manner that prioritizes clear outcomes and meaningful planning. Findings from this study offer implications to support higher education personnel in integrated planning for greater alignment of resources and continuous improvement; the assessment of student learning and achievement; and institutional effectiveness.