Iowa regents look to change review of program accreditation

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Iowa’s Board of Regents is considering nixing a mandate that all accreditation reports affirming university programs meet national standards come before one of its committees and thus be included on regular meeting agendas.

Instead of sending all accreditation reports to the board’s academic and student affairs committee, as has been the practice, a proposed change in regent policy suggests the board’s chief academic officer act as a sort-of gatekeeper by first reviewing them and then summarizing reports for the committee “as needed,” according to board spokesman Josh Lehman.

“This new policy is intended to make more efficient use of the board’s time at committee meetings,” Lehman said. “Instead of having the board review all accreditation reports, the board’s CAO will make summaries of reports, as needed.”

Accreditation reviews occur periodically for regent university programs, departments, colleges, and the institutions themselves — ranging from every five to eight years, depending on the program and the accrediting agency and requirements. An accredited educational program is recognized by peers as having met national standards, and the standing flags to employers, graduate schools, and licensure, certification, and registration boards that graduates are adequately prepared.

Many organizations and entities require graduation from an accredited program. Additionally, accreditation is meant to protect student interests and benefit the public by improving “the quality of teaching, learning, research, and professional practice.”

The board’s proposed policy change would not alter a requirement the universities send accreditation reports to the board office no later than three months after the final accrediting action. The amendment, which had its first of two readings Wednesday, would require the universities maintain — but not submit to the board office — complete documentation of the accreditation process, specific programs accredited, standards, strengths, concerns, weaknesses, recommendations, and institutional responses.

When asked whether all accreditation reports will continue to be made public proactively, as they have been through board committee agendas, Lehman said, “any summarized report will be brought before the academic and student affairs committee.”

When asked whether any schedule or timetable for the reports will be made public, Lehman said the board office intends to discuss with university provosts a “calendar for accreditation review.”

The regent website currently houses accreditation reports, although the most recent reports for UI colleges, departments, and programs are from 2016 and the most recent reports from Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa are from 2015. More recent accreditation reports can be found via committee agendas.

The board’s academic and student affairs committee last reviewed accreditation reports in April, when it looked at findings from UNI’s athletic training, electrical engineering technology, and interior design program audits.

The committee at that time also reviewed UI audit reports for its engineering programs, doctor of nursing program, and Tippie College of Business. Strengths were listed for each program, as were weaknesses — for all but the nursing program.

All the programs were recommended for reaccreditation.

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