Please note: “Principles” referenced below is The Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement (PDF), published by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The “Handbook” referenced below is the Handbook for Institutions Seeking Reaffirmation (PDF). It is also published by the SACS COC.
Why must RU develop a Quality Enhancement Plan?
Radford University is in the process of seeking reaffirmation of its accreditation from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Accreditation by SACS Commission on Colleges signifies that the institution (1) has a mission appropriate to higher education, (2) has resources, programs, and services sufficient to accomplish and sustain that mission, and (3) maintains clearly specified educational objectives that are consistent with its mission and appropriate to the degrees it offers, and that indicate whether it is successful in achieving its stated objectives (“Principles,” page 1).
The development of a QEP is SACS Core Requirement 2.12:
The institution has developed an acceptable Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) that includes an institutional process for identifying key issues emerging from institutional assessment and focuses on learning outcomes and/or the environment supporting student learning and accomplishing the mission of the institution (“Principles,” page 19).
SACS Comprehensive Standard 3.3.2 elaborates:
The institution has developed a Quality Enhancement Plan that (1) demonstrates institutional capability for the initiation, implementation, and completion of the QEP; (2) includes broad-based involvement of institutional constituencies in the development and proposed implementation of the QEP; and (3) identifies goals and a plan to assess their achievement (“Principles,” page 25).
Why is the QEP so important to institutions?
As part of the reaffirmation process, institutions must demonstrate that they are in compliance with over 80 Core Requirements, Comprehensive Standards, and Federal Requirements. With the exception of Core Requirement 2.12 and Comprehensive Standard 3.3.2—the two that focus upon the QEP—certification of compliance requires institutions to examine current policies and practices. The QEP, on the other hand, gives an institution the opportunity to look forward by focusing on an aspect of its mission and designing a plan to enhance it. As noted in the “Handbook” (page 40): “[Core Requirement 2.12 and Comprehensive Standard 3.3.2] launch a process that can move an institution into a future characterized by the development and/or modification of creative, engaging, and meaningful learning experiences for students.”
How was RU’s QEP theme selected?
During the 2010-2011 academic year, RU’s SACS Leadership Team hosted a number of forums and workshops to solicit input on the QEP theme. In compliance with Comprehensive Standard 3.3.2’s requirement that there be “broad-based involvement of institutional constituencies,” administrators, faculty, students, and staff participated in these activities. Of the eight possible themes that emerged, “Citizen Scholar” was one of three recommended by all constituencies to the SACS Leadership Team. The Leadership Team recommended “Citizen Scholar” to President Kyle, and she and her Cabinet approved it on March 31, 2010. (In the course of the development of the QEP, the name was changed to “Scholar-Citizen” to denote the primacy of scholarship.)
What is the process by which the QEP is being drafted?
Shortly after the approval of the theme, a QEP Writing Team (QEP-WT) was constituted and charged with drafting the document. The QEP-WT includes a faculty representative from each college, chosen in consultation with the Faculty Senate President from among those with interest and knowledge in the topic; a representative from Student Affairs, recommended by the vice president of that division; the member of the administrative and professional faculty who proposed the theme; and student representatives. RU’s SACS Liaison, Campus Coordinator, and a part-time consultant (former vice provost) contribute to the QEP-WT as ex-officio members. The disproportionate number of teaching faculty on the QEP-WT is by design; as noted in the “Handbook” (page 40): “Since the QEP addresses enhancing student learning and/or the environment supporting student learning, faculty typically play a primary role in this phase of the reaffirmation process.”
The “Handbook” (page 42) refers to the development of the QEP as a “recursive rather than a linear process.” As the writing process continues, the QEP-WT’s work will be informed by input and feedback that will be requested of and expected from all campus constituencies, especially the Student Government Association and the Faculty, Administrative, and Staff Senates. Each of these representative bodies is charged with making recommendations of behalf of its constituents.
The QEP will be a dynamic, not a static document. There will be periodic revisions during its lifetime in response to assessment of the student learning outcomes that will be part of the plan.
Core Requirement 2.12 implies that “[a] key issue emerging from institutional assessment” should be chosen as an institution’s QEP topic. What assessment has RU done that contributed to the selection of the Scholar-Citizen theme?
The “Handbook” (page 43) indicates that “Institutions are encouraged to base their selection of the topic for the QEP on an analysis of empirical data.” RU’s plan will include information from a number of surveys of our students supporting our selection of the Scholar-Citizen theme; for example, in the most recently administered Senior Exit Surveys, graduates indicated that while they thought “becoming a better citizen” was important to them, they were not fully convinced that RU prepared them to become better citizens. The QEP will also include mechanisms to gather information about the knowledge, skills, behaviors and values relative to the theme for those who matriculate at and graduate from RU in the future, so that the effectiveness of the QEP can be monitored and implementation strategies adjusted if/as appropriate.
However, the SACS Leadership Team determined early in the theme-selection process that it wanted the RU theme to grow out of a consensus among campus constituencies. SACS makes it clear that there is no single best way for an institution to select its QEP topic; rather, “Institutions need to identify a process that harmonizes with their size and governance structure” (“Handbook,” page 42). The “Handbook” (also page 42) goes on to say that “Broad-based involvement needs to be self-evident to on-site evaluators, who expect institutions to demonstrate that various institutional constituencies have been involved in the identification of the topic for the QEP.” We are confident that the RU theme selection process was both a good fit given the RU culture and offered everyone the opportunity to make their voices heard.
In essence, then, Radford University’s Scholar-Citizen theme is aspirational, not remedial; i.e., rather than focusing upon a student learning problem we have identified and must fix, we have identified a dimension of our mission—“the development of mature, responsible, well-educated citizens”—to which we will devote more concentrated attention, so that we might enhance the institution’s overall quality and effectiveness.
The primary focus of RU’s Scholar-Citizen QEP is helping students to see connections between what they are doing in their classrooms and challenges facing the world outside of academe. Many faculty are already doing that in projects in which their students address “real-life” outside-the-classroom problems. Will “enhancement” (the E in QEP) mean that they will be expected to do more?
The QEP-WT is very sensitive to the fact that everyone at RU has more than enough to do. Every effort is being made to avoid adding more to the plates of those who are already overburdened.
We are looking to those who are already engaging students in projects that fit within the Scholar-Citizen theme; we’ve identified multiple teaching faculty who make classroom-community connections part of their classes, and we know that there are numerous Student Affairs staff who work with students in similar co-curricular initiatives. Many of these individuals have agreed to serve on an Advisory Board as we draft the QEP. We will be asking them questions like: “How can we design the QEP such that it enhances the work you are already doing? What incentives can we put in the QEP that might make your work more rewarding and encourage others to engage their students in Scholar-Citizen initiatives? How might we bring additional attention and recognition to your efforts? Which teaching and learning strategies (i.e., “best practices”) are you utilizing that would appear to have wider University applicability? What learning outcomes have you employed, and what have you learned from assessing them? What faculty development activities would be helpful, both for current practitioners and for those interested in joining them? How might RU benefit if we created a “community of practice” around the Scholar-Citizen theme?”
The goal, then, is not to ask anyone to do more. Rather, it is to build upon best practices to enhance what we are already doing.
Will I (or my department/school) be penalized if we choose not to participate in the Scholar-Citizen initiative? In other words, can I “opt out”?
While the scope of the QEP initiative and the details of implementation are yet to be determined, it already appears clear that there is no sentiment that it must have a direct impact upon every RU student or require active involvement by all individual faculty and staff or by every curricular or co-curricular program at the University. The “Handbook” (page 43) indicates that
While the QEP is not expected to touch the life of every student at the institution, the topic does need to be perceived as significant to the institution and as a major enhancement to student learning. On the other hand, it also needs to be focused enough to provide a manageable framework for development and implementation.
The QEP-WT believes that the Scholar-Citizen initiative at RU will be more effective to the extent that it is focused; therefore, it is likely to involve only select faculty and staff, classes, clubs/organizations, students or groups of students, etc. Moreover, the current thinking is that faculty involvement will be both incentivized and invitational. The emphasis, therefore, will be upon ways to encourage faculty and staff to “opt in” (and rewarding them for doing so) instead of expecting involvement by everyone and denigrating those who “opt out.”
Will the assessment of the QEP be incorporated into the program review process?
The QEP-WT will not create a plan to assess the QEP until the specific learning outcomes have been established. However, since it is unlikely that implementation will be expected at the programmatic level, it is almost certain that assessment of the QEP will not be expected as part of program review.
What will the SACS reviewers be looking for in our QEP?
In general terms, our QEP must meet Core Requirement 2.12; i.e., we must demonstrate that it is focused upon student learning; is consonant with the RU mission; and is doable given the human and financial resources available. More specifically, the QEP is an action plan that must include the following (“Handbook,” pages 41-47):
- A statement justifying the topic or theme, including evidence that it was selected as a result of “widespread participation by all pertinent constituent groups”;
- Clearly-defined, realistic, and measurable student learning outcomes; i.e., changes in knowledge, skills, behaviors, or values;
- A review of the literature to provide evidence that the QEP has solid theoretical underpinnings and is grounded in best practices;
- A list of actions that will be taken to implement the QEP;
- A realistic and logically organized implementation timeline;
- Evidence that RU has the infrastructure to implement and continue the QEP; i.e., a listing of who will be accountable for what;
- Estimates of the resources necessary for implementing the QEP; and
- A detailed and multifaceted plan to assess the QEP.
When will the QEP be initiated?
Because other institutions in SACS have developed QEPs with topics similar to “Scholar-Citizen,” we are reasonably confident that the theme RU has chosen will not be problematic. Therefore, we can initiate preliminary implementation—enhancing campus awareness, building a community of practice, initial faculty development, etc.—as early as the spring semester of 2012. However, we must not presuppose the reaction of the Commission on Colleges to our QEP; moreover, the feedback we receive from the Commission will undoubtedly enable us to strengthen our plan and facilitate its implementation.
The SACS On-Site Reaffirmation Committee will be on campus March 27, 28, and 29, 2012. The Committee will include a lead QEP evaluator whom RU will nominate. Members of the team will spend much of their time on campus reviewing the QEP. As part of the Exit Conference, the Committee will orally share its recommendations and any consultative advice about the QEP with the institution’s leadership. Later, we will receive a written report from the Visiting Committee.
Assuming that no serious problems are identified, we will initiate early phases of implementation in the fall 2012 semester, possibly by piloting some initiatives we will later expand. If all goes well, we will receive a positive recommendation for reaffirmation, and the Board of Trustees of the SACS Commission on Colleges will reaffirm our accreditation at the annual SACS business meeting in December 2012. We will then be able to fully implement the “Scholar-Citizen” initiative beginning in spring 2013.
In 2017, RU will submit a Fifth-Year Interim Report, part of which must address the extent to which the QEP has affected outcomes related to student learning.
Where will we find the financial resources to implement the QEP?
SACS Comprehensive Standard 3.3.2 requires that institutions demonstrate the institutional capability for the initiation, implementation, and completion of the QEP. The QEP-WT initiated conversations with representatives of the Office of Finance and Administration this summer; cognizant of budgetary realities in the nation, Commonwealth of Virginia, and Radford University, the QEP-WT pledged to design a plan that is both fiscally lean and efficiently accomplishes its objectives. In return—and in recognition of the importance of the QEP to Radford University’s future—the QEP-WT received assurances that financing to support the plan will be made available. Dialogue between the QEP-WT and the Office of Finance and Administration continues as the QEP is drafted.
Since “institutional capability” is one of the key parts of Comprehensive Standard 3.3.2, reviewers will undoubtedly carefully examine the section of the QEP that discusses resources. If those reviewers feel that we will not be able to implement the QEP given the resources available, they may make appropriate recommendations related to institutional capability.
In effect, then, there are both internal and external checks to make sure that the resources we request to implement the QEP are realistic and available.
Where are we currently in the development of the QEP?
Please see the Timeline for a detailed list of our activities, past and current, as well as future deadlines.
For further information, or to submit suggestions and/or comments relating to information on this page, please contact:
Dr. Erin Webster-Garrett
Interim Director of the QEP