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NWCCU Accreditation

Overview of Accreditation Standards and Cycle

The accreditation standards are principle-based statements of expectations of quality and effectiveness for institutions accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. They function as: 1) indicators of educational quality and effectiveness by which institutions are evaluated; and 2) a framework for continuous improvement. Collectively they blend analysis and synthesis to enable holistic institutional self reflection and peer evaluation by examining the institution’s mission, its interpretation and translation of that mission into practice; appraisal of its potential to fulfill its mission; and evaluation of the results of its efforts to achieve that mission.

Structure

Each of the five standards is designated by a number and title (e.g., Standard Four – Effectiveness and Improvement, etc.). A narrative overview, which is not a criterion for evaluation, accompanies each standard. Elements of the standard, some with subsections to highlight key components, are designated by the number of the standard followed by the letter and title of the element within that standard (e.g., 4.A Assessment). The criteria for evaluation are identified by the number of the standard, followed by the letter of the standard element, followed by the number of the criterion within that standard element (e.g., 4.A.1).

Standards

Standard One (Mission, Core Themes*, and Expectations) examines institutional purpose and intentions. It requires a clear statement of institutional mission, articulation of mission fulfillment, and identification of core themes within that mission. It also requires a delineation of core theme objectives, each with assessable indicators of achievement and rationale for the selection of those indicators.

Standard Two (Resources and Capacity) assesses institutional inputs. It requires an evaluation of major institutional functions, resources, and infrastructure to enable a determination of the institution’s potential to succeed in fulfilling its mission.

Standard Three (Planning and Implementation) evaluates planning for the institution as a whole as well as planning to achieve the objectives of its core themes.

Standard Four (Effectiveness and Improvement) evaluates the results of the institution’s efforts. It assesses achievement of core theme objectives and achievement of goals or outcomes of programs and services. It also evaluates the institution’s use of assessment results for improvement.

Standard Five (Mission Fulfillment, Adaptation, and Sustainability) evaluates fulfillment of institutional mission in light of the institution’s own expectations (see Standard One). It assesses the institution’s capacity to monitor its environment and its ability to forecast and adapt to patterns, trends, and circumstances with the potential to influence institutional viability and sustainability.

*A core theme is a manifestation of a fundamental aspect of institutional mission with overarching objectives that guide planning for contributing programs and services, development of capacity, application of resources to accomplish those objectives, and assessment of achievements of those objectives. Collectively, the core themes represent the institution’s interpretation of its mission and translation of that interpretation into practice.

Seven-Year Accreditation Cycle

Under the seven-year accreditation cycle the institution addresses all standards in a regular, cumulative manner based on progressive stages of institutional self reflections that builds on previous findings and regular feedback from peer evaluators and the Board of Commissioners.

In the first stage of the septennial process, the institution prepares a report to address Standard One. Two years later, the institution expands its report on Standard One to include a response to Standard Two. In doing so, it reviews and updates, as necessary, its previous response to Standard One. Two years thereafter the institution expands its report on Standards One and Two to include a response to Standards Three and Four. Once again it reviews and updates, as necessary, its previous response to Standards One and Two. Two years after that, the institution expands its report on Standards One, Two, Three, and Four to include a response to Standard Five. In preparing its report the institution reviews and updates, as necessary, its previous response to Standards One, Two, Three, and Four. The seven-year process of cumulative self evaluation ensures the institution’s response to previously addressed standards remains current and relevant throughout the accreditation cycle. Moreover, the schedule of events at two-year intervals is intended to reduce substantially, if not eliminate, interim reports and visits which are commonly requested under the current review process.

Year One
In the first year of the new cycle, the institution submits a Year One Report to address Standard One. This initial report establishes the foundation for all subsequent reports and evaluations. There is no visit associated with the Year One Report, but a panel of evaluators reviews the report and prepares a report of findings and a confidential recommendation. The Board of Commissioners considers the institution’s report and the evaluator panel’s report of findings and confidential recommendation. The Board’s action and feedback are provided in writing following the meeting.

Year Three
In the third year of the seven-year cycle, the institution expands its Year One Report to include a response to Standard Two. In doing so, it reviews and updates, as necessary, its response to Standard One to ensure the cumulative Year Three report is current and internally consistent with regard to Standards One and Two. A committee of evaluators conducts an onsite visit to evaluate the institution with regard to Standards One and Two and prepares a report of findings and a confidential recommendation. The Board of Commissioners considers the institution’s and the evaluation committee’s report of findings and confidential recommendation. Institutional representatives and the chair of the evaluation meet with the Board via audio conferencing when the matter is considered. The Board’s action and feedback are provided in writing following the meeting.

Year Five
In the fifth year of the septennial cycle, the institution expands its Year Three Report to include a response to Standards Three and Four. In doing so it reviews and updates, as necessary, its response to Standards One and Two to ensure the cumulative Year Five Report is current and internally consistent with regard to Standards One, Two, Three, and Four. There is no visit associated with the Year Five Report, but a panel of evaluators reviews the report with respect to Standards Three and Four and prepares a report of findings and a confidential recommendation. The Board of Commissioners considers the institution’s report and the evaluator panel’s report of findings and confidential recommendation. The Board’s action and feedback are provided in writing following the meeting.

Year Seven
In the seventh year of the oversight cycle, the institution expands its Year Five Report to include a response to Standard Five. In doing so it reviews and updates, as necessary, its response to Standards One, Two, Three, and Four to ensure the comprehensive Year Seven Report is current and internally consistent on all five standards. A committee of evaluators conducts an onsite visit to evaluate the institution with regard to Standards Three, Four, and Five and prepares a report of findings and a confidential recommendation. The Board of Commissioners considers the institution’s report and the evaluation committee’s report of findings and confidential recommendation. Institutional representatives and the evaluation committee chair meet with the Board when the matter is considered. The Board’s action and feedback are provided in writing following the meeting.

Recursion
In the first year following completion of the seven-year accreditation cycle, the institution begins the cycle anew with the submission of a Year One Report. That report builds upon its continuously updated response to Standard One throughout the previous cycle and its findings in monitoring its environments in response to Standard Five of the Year Seven Report from the prior year. Subsequent reports follow in a similar manner. Thus, the first cycle under the seven-year cycle sets the foundation for a recursive process of monitoring and maintenance designed to enhance continuous improvement and assure quality and effectiveness in a regular ongoing manner, rather than an intermittent episodic manner.