Accreditation is an assurance to the public that an educational institution is meeting or exceeding acceptable levels of quality. In particular, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), the regional accreditor for California community colleges, encourages and supports institutions to improve academic quality, institutional effectiveness, and student success through a process of review by higher education professionals and public members. The evaluation of institutions by the ACCJC assures the educational community, the general public, and other entitiesthat an institution has clearly defined objectives appropriate to higher education; has established conditions under which their achievement can reasonably be expected; appears in fact to be accomplishing them; and is organized, staffed, and supported so that it can be expected to continue to do so.
In Title 5 §53200, item seven of the “10+1” provides that local academic senates and governing boards consult collegially in establishing “faculty roles and involvement in accreditation processes, including self-study and annual reports.” One can easily argue that faculty participation on accreditation peer review teams is not only beneficial to the faculty member’s college as well as the college undergoing the review, but crucial to the entire accreditation process.
One of the most personally and professionally enriching experiences for college faculty is to participate as a member of a peer review team for a college that is undergoing its comprehensive evaluation visit for accreditation. Serving as a member on a peer review team is a unique professional development opportunity during which one can observe and learn about successful practices in teaching and learning through initiatives and programs that support student achievement, and in areas of organizational behavior and development of higher education at institutions similar to one’s own. Participating on a peer review team gives one a broader perspective and greater appreciation for the complex and diverse ways in which community colleges serve their students and communities. However, until recently, the road for faculty participation has seemed pitted with potholes, and for some faculty, washed away completely.
The Accreditation Institute is an annual professional development event planned and organized by the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) to inform faculty on accreditation issues, policies, and effective practices. In February 2012, the Accreditation institute was held in partnership with the ACCJC in an attempt to begin constructive conversations around issues of mutual concern, including increasing the number of faculty in the ACCJC’s database who participate on visiting teams. While the ACCJC occasionally participated at the Accreditation Institute in the intervening years, not until the most recent Accreditation Institute in February 2018 did such a partnership begin again. This year, the ACCJC was a sponsor of the Accreditation Institute and in collaboration with the ASCCC, offered a pre-session consisting of two trainings: one for new peer reviewers and one for new accreditation liaison officers. The New Peer Reviewer Training was one result of many changes taking place within the ACCJC over the last year or so, due to the recommendations from Workgroup I, established by the Chief Executive Officers of California Community Colleges (CEOCCC), to begin work with ACCJC commissioners in order to make significant improvements in the structure and functioning of the ACCJC and to address long-standing concerns of its members, and an ASCCC Resolution 2.01 F16 Local Recruitment and Nominations Processes for Accreditation Teams.
The rebuilding of the road to faculty participation on peer review teams has begun. This new Peer Reviewer Training was an all-day interactive session consisting of presentations, group activities, and broad dialog. Participants learned about the basics of serving on an evaluation team while having an opportunity to discuss the philosophy of accreditation and peer review, review the standards and sections of the Institutional Self Evaluation Report (ISER), use case studies to prepare a simulated team report section, and discuss some of the situations that are commonly faced by evaluation teams. In addition, they were provided with information about how to be considered to serve on an evaluation team.
Peer Review teams typically consist of 8-12 members including a CEO, CIO, CBO, researcher, at least three faculty (discipline, librarian, counselor, DE Coordinator and/or SLO Coordinator, or other faculty leader), and deans, depending on the size and complexity of the institution. The members of a team are generally selected for their expertise in learning outcomes, library and learning resources, career and technical education, distance education, planning, research, and broad experience as appropriate to the institution being evaluated. For colleges with baccalaureate degrees the team will include expertise in baccalaureate education.
A Recent First Time Team Member’s Experience – Irit Gat, Antelope Valley College
ASCCC Accreditation Committee member Irit Gat, a faculty member at Antelope Valley College, recently participated on her first peer evaluation team. Her experiences around the preparation for the visit and the visit itself are recounted below:
I became interested in serving as a faculty member on a peer review team after my college went through a recent accreditation visit. As the Academic Senate President at that time, I contributed to several standards of our Institutional Self Evaluation Report (ISER) and was interviewed on a number of occasions during the team visit over four days. My experience during the interviews was unlike some of the descriptions that I heard from other colleges’ experiences of previous teams. I felt the visiting team was open, supportive, and genuinely eager to learn about our college. I also saw how hard they worked throughout the visit. This sparked my interest in serving because I wanted to give back to another college in this manner.
In order to qualify, I went to the ACCJC website and located the Bio Data Form for New Peer Reviewers. I brought the form to both my vice president of academic affairs and college president, both of whom eagerly supported me and signed the form. They both told me the experience would be incredibly valuable for my professional growth. And they were right! After submitting the form, I received a call several months later from the ACCJC inviting me to take part in the New Peer Reviewer Training, a general training. This was a one-day training covering the standards and procedures for being on a visiting team. We were given scenarios, worked in groups, and were provided with a lot of valuable information. When speaking with my colleagues who had been through previous ACCJC trainings, we noticed a big transformation from previous training sessions—there was a shift in ACCJC. From ACCJC presenting the team visit as a way to “police” the colleges to that of understanding the team visit as a more open and supportive way to help colleges grow while also recognizing their hard work and unique programs and processes. It was positive and upbeat.
A few months after that general training, I received an email inviting me to serve on a team the following semester, and I gladly accepted. I was eager to apply what I had learned and also contribute professionally at this level. My experience was more than I expected in so many ways! The next step was to attend another one-day training to meet my team colleagues and the team chair. At this training, we as a team, received direction and information pertaining to the college that was undergoing the comprehensive self-evaluation review. Our team chair asked us which standard we wanted to focus on, and what further information we would need to complete our review prior to our visit in a month. I filled out a general information form and then two assignments which covered our specific college's ISER. This forced me to read over the entire ISER in order to be familiar with the college under review. For the second assignment, I focused specifically on the standard I was assigned to. The best advice I received was from my college vice president and president, who have served on many teams and who encouraged me to prepare and write as much of the report on my section as possible prior to the visit. I also prepared a list of groups or individuals I wanted to interview during our team visit and additional documents that I needed in order to make an assessment as to whether the college had met the standards.
The visit, although a very busy time of intense work, was the best part of the entire process. I met so many wonderful colleagues, learned about another school in detail that no other opportunity could have afforded me, and also was privileged to work with an amazing group of colleagues on my team from other colleges. As a first-time team member, I was supported and mentored, and I learned so much about the accreditation process that will serve to help me when my college goes through the next accreditation cycle.
Is it a lot of work? Yes, but it is well-worth it both personally and professionally. As a faculty member, will you miss classes? You will since the team visit is a week-long experience. That is why it’s important to have the support of your dean, vice president, and president. They will need to authorize substitutes or alternative assignments. I had ample time to find substitutes and to make sure my classes would not fall behind. I am eager to serve on another team because I know I will continue to learn and meet hard-working colleagues with different experiences and with ideas for programs that I can bring back to my college. There were also pockets of time to have fun with the team members during short breaks and meals—so there is some down (fun) time. And I was treated like "royalty " during the entire visit from the college we were reviewing.
I highly encourage faculty to go through this experience on both a professional and personal level!
If Irit’s account has spurred your interest in serving on a team, or you have been considering it for a while, you should consider completing the Bio Data Form for New Peer Reviewers, which can be found at https://accjc.org/forms/. Faculty may also contact Steve Reynolds at sreynolds [at] accjc.org (sreynolds[at]accjc[dot]org) for additional information.
Improving ACCJC Structure, Function, and Relations: https://www.ccleague.amz1.securityserve.com/sites/default/files/pdf/resources/accreditation/WG%201_%20Sept%202017%20Report%20to%20CEO%20Board_9-20-17.pdf
 Bio Data Form for New Peer Reviewers: https://accjc.org/forms/