Many people see accreditation as a requirement, an obligation, and a chore. However, these perspectives might change if those people could re-envision accreditation practices to focus less on compliance and more on how they can improve their colleges and make them student-centered. Two movements currently dominating California community colleges are guided pathways and equity, both of which focus on increasing student opportunities and completion and could help to refocus work in accreditation. Guided pathways and accreditation have a great deal in common: both focus on the evaluation and improvement of institutional structures. Accreditation standards focus on policies, processes and procedures such as academic quality, intuitional effectiveness, resource management, and governance. Institutions often create processes to address accreditation standards. Through guided pathways, colleges can re-design their policies and practices with students in mind and purposely identify and address equity gaps.
GUIDED PATHWAYS PILLARS
Many of the accreditation standards published by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges align with the four pillars of guided pathways:
Clarifying the Path
Standard I.C on Institutional Integrity is ideal for reviewing the information institutions provide to their students. For example, Standard I.C.1 asks colleges to ensure “the clarity, accuracy and integrity of information provided to students and prospective students…” As colleges address these requirements, they can also redesign information to be student-centered and provide students the information needed to make informed choices. In addition, Standard I.C.4 asks that the college “describe its certificate and degrees in terms of purpose, content, core requirements and expected learning outcomes.” Colleges can document how their work in guided pathways program mapping addresses this standard.
Entering the Path
Standard II.C’s focus on counseling and admissions is in perfect alignment with the guided pathways goal of improving student onboarding. Redesigning onboarding processes can address requirements such as Standard II.C.5, which mandates that “Counseling and advising programs orient students to ensure they understand the requirements related to their program of study and receive timely, useful and accurate information.” Standard II.C focuses on admission instruments, requiring them to be regularly evaluated and validated on their effectiveness in minimizing biases, thus aligning with the goals of equity plans.
Staying on the Path
Program review has traditionally been used to address standards such as Standard II.A.16, which asks that the college “regularly evaluate and improve the quality and currency of all instructional programs…. The institution systematically strives to improve programs and courses to enhance learning outcomes and achievement for students.” Reimagining program review in a guided pathways framework was a major theme at ASCCC events in 2019. The goal has been to refocus program review questions on students rather than instruction. Program review processes can be designed to help improve programs and increase the number of students staying on the path.
Standards such as IV.1.4 encourage innovation and improvement in instruction and student services. This standard states that the college “supports… taking initiative for improving the practices, programs and services in which they are involved.” This statement is the definition of the work colleges are doing with guided pathways. Accreditation standards such as I.B.6 also encourages colleges to “disaggregate and analyze learning outcomes and achievement for sub-populations,” supporting guided pathways equity foundations.
QUALITY FOCUS ESSAY
Most accreditation work is reactive. Colleges respond to the standards with evidence of the work they have done in the past. The Quality Focus Essay is an institution’s chance to be proactive and to innovate. The QFE is an opportunity for the college to articulate its goals for the next accreditation cycle. Guided pathways and equity work can be used to focus these efforts on improving student outcomes.
The documentation colleges create through their guided pathways and equity work can provide evidence of how a college is meeting or exceeding the standards. Evidence can be both qualitative and quantitative. Institutions should document the great work they are doing, including identifying meta majors, program mapping, redesigning program review, simplifying and improving student onboarding, and strategic enrollment management and scheduling. These practices are perfect examples of continuous quality improvement.
ROLE OF FACULTY
Accreditation work should not be done just for the sake of compliance; it should be focused on making institutions more student-centered and on increasing student achievement. California community colleges’ work in guided pathways and equity can provide that framework. Accreditation is included in the 10 + 1 areas of academic and professional matters listed in Title 5 §53200. Local academic senates should take the lead in ensuring that faculty are leaders in accreditation, guided pathways, and equity work at their colleges and support the redirection of the focus from compliance to discussions on student-centered thinking and planning.
Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. (2014, June). Accreditation Standards. Retrieved from the ACCJC website: https://accjc.org/wp-content/uploads/Accreditation-Standards_-Adopted-J….