COPRA Actions & Consistency in Decision-making

As COPRA navigates how to best respond to the COVID-19 crisis, we are encouraged and motivated by the flexibility, commitment, resilience, and creativity of our accredited programs and volunteers. Programs are quickly adapting to the pandemic, shouldering increased burdens and changing program delivery modalities, while site visitors have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to supporting programs under review. Buoyed by our community, COPRA remains steadfast in its responsibility to provide accredited programs with guidance, support, and a consistent and fair review process. 

Programs responses to COVID-19

All accredited programs are reminded of the importance of participatory, responsive, and transparent decision making in the midst of pandemic responses.

As universities continue to explore how to respond to COVID-19, COPRA staff are fielding questions about how potential changes may impact accreditation and conformance to the Standards. Broadly, the NASPAA Standards are designed to ensure that programs have the mission-based flexibility to respond to program evaluation and the needs of their communities.  Responses during this situation are no exception. Please visit our FAQs for additional resources.

Accreditation Review Adjustments

To best support programs during the rapidly evolving situation, COPRA may adjust aspects of its requirements so programs are able to better focus on supporting students and faculty during this time. COPRA will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on programs to determine if additional flexibility is appropriate.

Accreditation Site Visits:

To ensure the safety of our volunteer site visitors and program constituents, COPRA has determined that all site visits for the 2020-2021 accreditation review cohort will be virtual.  

Per COPRA’s Policies, there is precedent for COPRA conducting virtual site visits.  Virtual site visits are rigorous, engaging, and interactive. Site visit teams meet with all program stakeholders, engage directly on topics outlined in the interim report, review program documents, and discuss areas of program delivery that are critical to conformance with the Standards. Based on feedback from previously hosted virtual site visits, COPRA prepared a guide for programs to conduct virtual site visits and incorporated feedback from 2020 to support future virtual site visits. 

The 2020 Experience: As the pandemic unfolded, it became clear that site visits occurring in mid-to-late March and early April 2020 would be directly impacted by the shift to distance learning, restrictions on travel, extended spring breaks, and campus closures. As a result, COPRA offered programs with site visits scheduled after March 18, 2020 the choice to either convert to a virtual site visit or postpone the site visit to be scheduled between September and November 2020. By putting the decision in the hands of programs, COPRA gave each program the ability to be responsive to the needs of its community, specifically faculty navigating the review process and immediate shifts to distance learning, invest its resources toward mission-based outcomes that promote the values of public service, and ensure faculty and students are well-supported during this challenging time. Programs postponing the site visit will incur no additional fees nor will their maximum accreditation term be impacted.

COPRA Accreditation Actions

While COPRA has adjusted some aspects of its review process to provide flexibility as programs adapt to the pandemic, specifically site visits as detailed above, it does not anticipate that these will detract from the integrity of the accreditation review. 

COPRA implements a series of measures designed to ensure that its review is consistent and fair within and across review cohorts:

  • Program data are displayed in a comparable fashion within the NASPAA Data Center, to allow COPRA to easily digest important metrics and trends in areas such as faculty size, persistence rates, and employment rates. (These are available to the program and site visitors as well, and used in both annual report reviews and (re)accreditation reviews).
  • Programs under review for (re)accreditation have multiple opportunities to communicate directly with COPRA, outside of the self-study report. Crucially, the final response due each May provides programs the chance to have the ‘last word’ in the review, responding to the site visit report, answering final questions, sharing new evidence of conformance, and/or outlining future plans. 
  • In its preparation for the final action meeting, COPRA first meets in sub-groups, to discuss individual programs, recommendations, and questions and concerns. Based on these initial conversations, the COPRA review agenda is organized to group similar questions and/or themes observed across programs to maximize consistency in discussions and action. Staff track COPRA concerns and decisions throughout the meeting to allow for the revising and recalibration of decisions, each of which is revisited at the culmination of each day of a meeting, as well as overall at the end of a meeting, to review the threshold for accreditation or not. The Chair overviews each decision made, the reasons for it, and opens for discussion any issues that may have arisen after the benefit of the review of additional programs. Any COPRA member with concerns about the decision of an individual program is encouraged to raise them during these consistency checks.
  • After the actions are made, as appropriate, COPRA uses the same language in official decision letters both within and across cohorts to ensure consistent guidance for similar outstanding questions. 

Together, these steps ensure consistent thresholds are applied and similar concerns receive similar decisions each year.

COPRA takes seriously its role in providing consistent reviews as well as the potential for anomalies in any part of the process, including the impact of the pandemic on programs seeking (re)accreditation, and weighs these in its decision making. The accreditation review is not simply adjudicative, but also formative, and COPRA seeks to balance these roles in its process and decisions.