COVID-19 Resources for Accredited Programs

Together, we are facing an unprecedented, global public health crisis demanding the prioritization of the health and safety of our colleagues, students, and families. As we navigate the evolving situation, the importance of our role as public service educators is unmistakeable and COPRA takes seriously its role in supporting each accredited program during this time. 

NASPAA, COPRA, and accredited programs, are bound through the accreditation process by a commitment to public service values and continuous improvement, ensuring that students and faculty are well-served and successful. This commitment distinguishes our programs, and we are confident in your ability to continue supporting your communities by embracing your strengths even while adapting to the unknown. We encourage you to rely on the NASPAA community for support, reflect on learning opportunities, and continue to find innovative ways to promote public service education and student success.

COPRA is sensitive to the extenuating circumstances surrounding these decisions and supportive of moves that place student and faculty health and safety at the forefront. The Standards are designed to be flexible to accommodate varying contexts, missions, and changing situations like this one. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Conformance during COVID-19

COPRA’s priority continues to be that programs make thoughtful and mission- and evidence-based decisions that are student- and faculty-centric, implemented fairly and consistently, and that continue to ensure programmatic success and student competency. It does not anticipate that the innovative and mission-based ways programs cope with the pandemic in the short-term will jeopardize overall conformance to the Standards. Mission and program evaluation are hallmarks of the process, and through these, programs have the flexibility to adapt to, and learn from, this situation.  The below FAQs represent the questions COPRA is most often receiving from programs. We will continue to update this list with common questions and concerns regarding the accreditation review process and Standards-based guidance on program decisions. If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact NASPAA Staff.

Yes! COPRA understands how faculty across all of our programs are stretched thin in response to COVID-19. We will continue to monitor if changes to the below dates are warranted.

  1. The 2020 Self-Study Report deadline has been extended 2 weeks to September 1, 2020.
  2. The 2020 Eligibility application deadlines have been extended 2 weeks to May 1 or September 1, 2020.
  3. The final (May) response for the 2019-20 cohort has been extended 1 week to May 29, 2020. Further extensions will be considered as the situation unfolds.

You may also request an extension for program-specific reports and responses with varying deadlines by contacting NASPAA staff at copra@naspaa.org.

Many universities are considering adopting a pass/fail (or similar) grading scheme due to sudden changes in course delivery. The NASPAA Standards do not prescribe specific grading methods, instead COPRA seeks evidence of student competency based on direct student learning assessment, which explicitly does not include course grades. Thus, for conformance, student competency and mastery is dependent on your aggregate assessment analyses (Standard 5.1), and how those feed into overall program evaluation and improvement (Standard 1.3).

The Self-Study Instructions state:

It is expected that all students in a NASPAA-accredited degree program will have the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills on each of the five universal required competencies. The program shows that it requires the five universal competencies of public and nonprofit affairs, policy and administration and links them to the program mission. The program defines each of the required competencies in terms of at least one student learning outcome (but there may be more than one) and demonstrates student achievement of those competencies at the program-level...the result of the assessment of student learning outcomes is demonstrable evidence of how the student performed on the specific student learning outcome (rather than in a course or on an assignment). The feedback loop is demonstrated by how the program used these performance data to make programmatic decisions (p64).

As with any decisions that impact student learning and persistence to graduation, programs adjusting course expectations and/or grading schema should ensure transparent and timely communication with students and faculty.

 

COPRA expects that all students will have at least one experiential learning exercise and/or interaction with practitioners (Self-Study Instructions, p67). Internships are the most common tool for programs to expose students, especially pre-service students, to public service professional competencies; however, organization responses to the pandemic may be impacting the availability of internships, especially those outside of the institution's country. 

The Self-Study instructions state:

Practitioners make unique contributions to the educational program as role models, career advisors, and individuals who convey lessons from experience in public service. The program should provide some opportunities for students to gain an understanding of and interact with practitioners across the broad range of professions and sectors associated with public and nonprofit affairs, administration, and policy. These may include client-based, field projects within regular courses; internships; instructors from the profession; guest speakers; ongoing relationships with public service employers; and so forth (p67). 

Programs waiving internships in response to the pandemic should consider how the program provides non-internship related opportunities to students to interact with public servants. They should also establish and communicate to students clear and consistent protocols for implementing internship waivers so that students are informed of, participate in, and supported toward the program’s academic continuance and graduation standards (Self-Study Instructions, p59).

 

COPRA expects that all students will have at least one experiential learning exercise and/or interaction with practitioners (Self-Study Instructions, p67). Internships are the most common tool for programs to expose students, especially pre-service students, to public service professional competencies; however, organization responses to the pandemic may be impacting internship delivery. 

The Self-Study instructions state:

Practitioners make unique contributions to the educational program as role models, career advisors, and individuals who convey lessons from experience in public service. The program should provide some opportunities for students to gain an understanding of and interact with practitioners across the broad range of professions and sectors associated with public and nonprofit affairs, administration, and policy. These may include client-based, field projects within regular courses; internships; instructors from the profession; guest speakers; ongoing relationships with public service employers; and so forth (p67). 

Just as with in-person internships, programs approving virtual internships in response to the pandemic should consider how they ensure virtual internships provide students mission-based professional competencies and that the program provides internship support and oversight. The program should also establish and communicate to students clear and consistent protocols for implementing internship processes so that students are informed of, participate in, and supported toward the program’s academic continuance and graduation standards (Self-Study Instructions, p59).

 

Program evaluation and assessment processes are intended to be developmental and to improve the educational effectiveness of each degree program. If distance learning impacts your program’s approach to assessment, or you observe changes to student learning outcomes, COPRA expects that, as with any student learning data, the program will learn from and improve based on its analyses.

The Self-Study Instructions state:

The program that provides accurate information on student learning and student attainment of required competencies will not be held to an ideal standard of perfection. Rather, the program will be expected to demonstrate that it understands the competencies expected of graduates, that it has instituted teaching and learning methods to ensure that students attain these competencies, and, where evidence of student learning does not meet program expectations, that action has been taken to improve performance. Therefore, the overall assumption is that students will graduate from the program with the necessary competencies to embody the program’s mission statement and public service values (p63).

 

Apart from the requirement that all students entering accredited programs hold bachelor’s degrees, the NASPAA Standards prescribe no specific admission criteria or deadlines (Standard 4.2). Accredited programs have the flexibility to determine appropriate, mission-based indicators for their degree programs. For example, in recent years, many programs have instituted GRE waivers or chosen to eliminate GRE requirements all together in favor of more equitable policies and diverse application pools. 

COPRA expects that the outcomes of student recruiting, admissions, retention, and student services should be consistent with the program’s mission. Admitted students should show good potential for success in professional graduate study in public service, in area(s) relevant to the program’s mission. The recruitment and retention processes should be transparent, accountable, ethical, equitable, diverse, inclusive, and participatory (Self-Study Instructions, p. 58). 

The Self-Study Instructions state:

The program implements minimum thresholds for admission and clearly defines, and communicates, these requirements as well as any program prerequisites. The program follows its admission policies, which should be based on a combination of indicators appropriate to its mission. Admission policies produce a diverse student body that supports achievement of the program’s mission (p.59).

 

The 2019-20 academic year is presenting unprecedented challenges to accredited programs, and universities are responding in a variety of ways. The Annual Report form provides programs the space to discuss any substantive changes made during the reporting year, including any relevant discussion of university- and program-specific responses to COVID-19. Our immediate focus is not on the annual report, but on helping programs adapt now.