Overview of the Institutional Review Process

Self-Study and Preparation for the Institutional Review Process

Opportunities for Guidance: WSCUC is committed to supporting institutions as they prepare for the Institutional Review Process. There will be multiple opportunities for institutions to receive information and guidance in order to prepare for the Offsite Review and Visit.

  • Academic Resource Conference: Every year, WSCUC sponsors the Academic Resource Conference (ARC), which includes workshops and panels on the revised process that institutions will find helpful.
  • Institutional consultations: Institutions should arrange on-campus consultations, at their cost, with their WSCUC staff liaison. Objectives for this consultation include a review of the institution’s responses to previous Commission recommendations and identification of the goals for the self-study, including strengths and areas of challenge. In addition, the WSCUC liaison is available to meet on-site with groups and individuals involved in the self-study process. Together, the team and staff liaison will clarify subsequent steps and strategies for the review. These may include, for example, how the institution will organize for the review, how various constituencies will be involved, and what resources will be required.li>

The Self-Study: The self-study is the institution’s process of gathering data and reflecting on its current functioning and effectiveness under the Standards. At the beginning of the IRP, the self-study provides the necessary preparation for later steps, but self-study continues throughout the two to three years of review for reaffirmation. A candid self-study, with broad engagement of the institutional community, provides the foundation for a high quality institutional report.

In preparation for the self-study, institutions are expected to review their accreditation history. This includes the most recent team report and all Commission action letters received since the last reaccreditation; documents submitted to WSCUC since the last review for reaffirmation of accreditation; and WSCUC responses where applicable (e.g., recommendations related to substantive changes or an interim report).

Early in the self-study, the institution undertakes the Review under the WSCUC Standards and Compliance with Federal Requirements. The associated worksheet offers a guide to the four Standards of Accreditation, the Criteria for Review under each Standard, and Guidelines. The questions it poses are designed to prompt conversation on institutional capacity and infrastructure, strengths, weaknesses, priorities, and plans for ensuring compliance with the Standards and institutional improvement.

This worksheet calls only for information that has not been submitted with the institution’s annual report and that demonstrates compliance with several federal requirements accreditors are expected to monitor. The institution should complete this worksheet for verification by the team during the review process.

The institution also completes the Inventory of Educational Effectiveness Indicators Form, which provides a comprehensive overview of the institution’s assessment processes and will be updated for the Mid-Cycle Review.

The completed Review under the WSCUC Standards and Compliance with Federal Requirements Worksheet and the Inventory of Educational Effectiveness Indicators Form, with links to supporting documentation, are submitted as exhibits with the Institutional Report. Their more important function, however, is to provide concrete prompts that help the institution to think collectively about its current status, its vision for the future, and what it may need to do to build on areas of strength, ensure improvement in areas of weakness, demonstrate compliance with federal regulations and WSCUC requirements, and accomplish a successful reaffirmation of accreditation.

Instead of beginning with the Review under the WSCUC Standards and Compliance with Federal Requirements and with the Inventory of Educational Effectiveness Indicators, some institutions may prefer to frame their self-study around their own priorities and planning (e.g., strategic, financial, and/or academic). The accreditation review may then be adapted to support those goals. Some institutions administer surveys or conduct focus groups to identify top campus priorities. Such approaches have the advantage of putting the emphasis on the institution’s goals and then integrating them with WSCUC expectations; thus they may inspire broader campus engagement, stronger commitment to the process, and greater returns on the effort and resources invested. However the institution chooses to begin, explicit attention to the Standards and CFRs, as well as documented compliance with federal laws and regulations, is required.

After these initial steps, the focus of the self-study shifts to the specific components that form the institutional report. These components are described in detail below, along with prompts that can stimulate inquiry and reflection.

Another essential element at the outset of the self-study is practical planning for how the institution will launch and conduct the accreditation review. Such planning addresses the financial and human resources that will be needed, the structures that will support progress, the timeline and milestones that must be met, and metrics that are available or must be generated. To the extent possible, institutions are encouraged to make use of existing resources, e.g., standing committees, an assessment office, program review, and institutional research, before introducing new processes.