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Reimagining Accreditation

For the past year a small committee has held several sessions and gathered data in order to make some strong recommendations in regard to the future of accrediting for journalism and mass communication. The committee was made up of three former ACEJMC council members, and all involved are very experienced in the accrediting process. We all believe that accrediting can be a process that can add value to our field and to individual schools. However it is our conclusion that a number of steps could be taken to improve the process significantly.

ASJMC does not oversee ACEJMC, so we have no authority to insist upon change. But from our experience and the thoughts and ideas gathered from others over the course of several years, we do feel strongly that the accreditation process could be significantly improved.

What follows is a set of ideas and recommendations for consideration.

The accrediting body should not reside at an institution which goes through the accrediting process. This arrangement presents the inherent appearance of a conflict of interest. No other accrediting body we could find resides at a university or college. Thus ACEJMC should find office space outside of a university. AEJMC has available office space in South Carolina, this might provide a logical alternative setting.

Staff for any accrediting body cannot also be on the payroll of an accredited school or program. Again, this a fairly obvious conflict of interest.

The accrediting process should be completely digital. The accrediting body should have a data base and software wherein schools can log in and fill out all the information online. This information would be stored in a searchable database, and schools could access the database to get information. Schools could do reports based on this data that would help them compare their programs to others around the country – they could do these report based on geography, size of the program, public or private schools, any criteria that would be helpful. This would bring great added value to the process. This is also data that a provost or president could use.

If the process was completely digital, one possibility might be for program to file shorter annual reports rather than a very long self-study every six years. This also raises interesting questions about how often site visits might take place. One model might be to send site teams only when reports indicate it is needed.

The value of doing the long accrediting reports seems to diminish over time. If self-studies are continued to be asked for every 6 years, the programs could be asked to select a particular topic to emphasize in the report…a topic which would add value to the program by going through this exercise. It would be a topic selected by the program along with the accrediting body that could help move the program forward in a powerful way. Examples: how can the program be global, how can the program be more diverse, etc.

The accreditation process must be more inclusive, and be more transparent. An accrediting body must maintain a diverse accrediting Committee. ACEJMC’s committee is made up currently of15 members (7 male, 8 female). An accrediting body must maintain a diverse accrediting Council. ACEJMC’s accrediting council currently has 31 members (18 male, 13 female). An accrediting body must have more diverse officers. ACEJMC current President and Vice President and Chair are white men. An accrediting body must have more diverse site teams, this would mean increasing the pool of eligible candidates through active recruiting and training. An accrediting body must have more diversity in team leadership. A 2004 to 2014 analysis of diversity among ACEJMC team leaders revealed underrepresentation of women (only 35%) and extreme underrepresentation of people of color (only 1%). This has gotten worse since 2010! (See separate table for details.)

The accrediting body needs to provide more training opportunities. The organization should offer online training modules, face-to-face experiential learning opportunities (shadowing), a competency assessment and certification and recertification for initial and continuing site team members (every five years? ten years?) in addition to the annual accreditation workshop.

If site teams continue – the questions asked of schools in a report or self study should match exactly the questions asked of site team evaluators.

The process of selecting site team members should be transparent. Currently there are members of the AEJMC/ASJMC community who have gone through the training and are very qualified but they have never been asked to be on a team. Other team members go on multiple site visits. It’s an arbitrary process that should be democratized and explained thoroughly. There is a feeling that the size and make-up of site teams needs to be more consistent across schools.

If site visits are continued, more external stakeholders should be interviewed as part of the process. The on-campus meetings with other folks from campus is fairly worthless, they all say nice things. But interviews with more people externally might help provide a more complete picture.

Administrators said they have little knowledge of their peer schools. A searchable data base could help with this.

ACEJMC needs a better website. More transparency and a better website with clear explanations would help eliminate the fear of the process. There needs to be more transparency at all levels and steps of the process. The ABET web site was held up as an outstanding example of a web site where all things are clearly explained in a site that is very easy to navigate. Including who evaluators are and how they are selected. http://www.abet.org

There needs to be a clear process with clear standards on under what conditions schools get granted a postponement – this decision currently does not go to the council and should. There are not currently clearly stated guidelines and explaining when a program may or may not get a postponement.

An accrediting body must avoid reputation bias. There was the strong impression that currently big programs with a well established reputation appear to be sacrosanct, or “too important or valuable to be interfered with.” People also felt there is evidence of “flawed” programs passing accreditation review with flying colors.

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