Maintaining Accreditation Excellence: A Note from the 2023-2024 COPRA Chair
In this article, Dr. Gloria J. Billingsley, 2023-2024 COPRA Chair, shares the ways in which the Commission is working to meet the objectives of the fifth goal in the NASPAA Strategic Plan: Maintaining Accreditation Excellence.
The accreditation process should be one of confirmation and affirmation for our academic programs. The accreditation process should identify what programs are doing well and where improvement is needed. However, we should also affirm our relationship and commitment to programs as they demonstrate conformance to accreditation standards. To this end, the guiding principle for my leadership of COPRA is that the role of accreditation should not be one of “gatekeeping” but of capacity building for our member institutions and those who choose to seek accreditation. It has been documented in the research literature that supportive environments coupled with clear performance expectations or standards result in high-performing organizations. COPRA has been engaged in several activities to promote and maintain accreditation excellence. The three objectives of the NASPAA Strategic Plan under this focus area are: (1) identifying barriers to accreditation, (2) ensuring that we engage in processes that are responsive to the needs of those seeking accreditation and to NASPAA Standards, and (3) providing support for programs.
Identifying Barriers to Accreditation. One strategy that COPRA uses to identify barriers is inherent in the deliberative process that COPRA uses to identify trends in conformance to standards by cohort. Data from this process is used to guide COPRA activities in serving current and future accreditation cohorts. During the 2022-2023 review year, COPRA surveyed HBCUs/MSIs to ascertain facilitators and barriers in the accreditation process. Findings from the survey were presented to the Executive Council along with budget requests to address issues identified. During my tenure as Chair, we will continue to address issues identified in the survey.
Engaging processes that allow the NASPAA Standard to be responsive to the needs of those seeking accreditation. COPRA engages in processes and procedures that support mission-driven strategies programs use to tell their stories as they demonstrate conformance. First, new commissioners are engaged in a two-part orientation session that familiarizes them with NASPAA Standards, the role of COPRA, the accreditation process, and a mock review of a self-study report. Other ways in which COPRA is working to increase its responsiveness to accreditation needs are (1) a recent revision of the Self-Study instructions to provide clarity and further guidance in areas where programs seem to struggle, (2) guidance was developed for the COPRA chair in making decisions regarding requests for second-year delays for submission of self-study reports; (3) identification of credit hour conversion resources for international programs seeking NASPAA accreditation; (4) formation of a committee to review peer examples to ensure programs seeking (re)accreditation have access to examples are relevant and reflect the diversity of member institutions (small, large, HBCUs, MSIs and international); (5) working on updating the accreditation videos; and (6) members recently completed a DEI and bias training to help guide its work relative to accreditation standards and in preparation for its work with NASPAA in the implementation of its newly released DEIJA strategic plan.
Providing support for Programs. Programs are supported throughout the accreditation lifecycle from the initial submission of an eligibility application, to securing accreditation and maintain accreditation once granted. COPRA provides leadership and support through these stages by reviewing eligibility applications, self-study and annual maintenance reports. COPRA uses a multi-level review process to ensure conformance to standards and is guided by COPRA Member liaisons during the self-study year and during the review of annual maintenance reports. Deliberations during COPRA meetings include consistency checks to ensure that all programs are treated fairly. The Annual Accreditation Institute is designed to bring member institutions together to build community among member institutions and build institutional capacity to successfully move to accreditation or reaccreditation. Programs are also provided an opportunity for “speed consulting” during the annual conference, where they have an opportunity to work one-on-one with a COPRA member. The NASPAA Accreditation staff provides countless hours of supporting programs to ensure accreditation excellence.
While accreditation may be under political attack and there is a questioning of the value of accreditation, those programs that enjoy the status that accreditation brings are fully convinced of its value. Small programs comprise a majority of NASPAA-accredited programs, and for many, accreditation is the lifeblood of their existence—it serves as a seal of approval and quality. It is my belief that maintaining accreditation excellence is more than simply adhering to standards. It is about reflexivity and relationship building, where we hold ourselves and our peers accountable as we prepare and enhance the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the next generation of public servants. Accreditation excellence is the tie that binds us together irrespective of designation, size, resources, or geography.
--- Dr. Gloria J. Billingsley, 2023-2024 COPRA Chair