By Katie Quaranta
A new report from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools commends Ohio University's long-term planning efforts while outlining several challenges for the institution to address.
The report stems from last month's quality check-up visit as required by North Central's Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP). The university, which is accredited through North Central, has participated in AQIP since 2002. Unlike the traditional means of accreditation, AQIP encourages universities to adopt a proactive improvement philosophy through the creation of quality improvement initiatives, or action projects.
During the visit, a two-person accreditation team met with more than 100 individuals from various constituent groups on the Athens campus to examine the university's progress on action project goals. The team was particularly impressed with the university's Vision OHIO plan and cited strategic planning as "one of the outstanding strengths of the institution."
"I think before the visit they were a little skeptical that we needed both AQIP and Vision OHIO," said Martin Tuck, associate provost for academic affairs. "After the first half day, they began to realize how we were integrating the two activities and could see how they work together."
The report suggests the university's next challenge is to continue to integrate and coordinate Vision OHIO goals with AQIP projects. In fact, that is one of the university's current AQIP projects, as are initiatives to develop common learning outcomes for university students and to enhance graduate education.
The report also points to the maintenance and utilization of the university's Systems Portfolio as an area of potential improvement. The AQIP advisory committee completed this document four years ago, as per AQIP requirements, but it has not been updated since. The portfolio is designed mainly to detail university goals and explain the processes used to accomplish them. It also includes sections outlining the results of these efforts and suggested improvements.
The report suggests regular updates to the portfolio to document action project successes. Reviewers also recommended university officials shift its focus from process to comprehensive assessment.
Tuck agreed with that feedback and plans to revisit the systems portfolio to make it a more comprehensive and continually evolving document. He believes that should be an easier task now that the university has a more solid understanding of the process compared to several years ago.
"We were kind of the guinea pigs, especially in regard to us being a large, comprehensive institution," he said, adding that Kent State University was the only other large university participating in the program at that time. "Creating this document was very much a challenge because, in many ways, we are like eight colleges rolled into one."
He also welcomes the chance to return to the action projects in order to incorporate more detailed assessment strategies. The Vision OHIO Steering Committee, which recently joined with the AQIP advisory group, plans to work with the Office of Institutional Research to achieve that goal. They also will examine the current action projects to determine which ones should be retired or changed and which new projects would be most beneficial.
Overall, Tuck was pleased with the report and appreciated the team's final assessment.
"We were found to be satisfactory in all of the areas that they looked at," he said. "The fact that they felt the institution was benefiting from AQIP was very satisfying because that's why we got into it."
A reaffirmation of accreditation review, the last step in AQIP's seven-year accreditation cycle, is scheduled for next year. During this step, an AQIP panel will review documents, including the quality check-up report, annual reports and federal compliance reports, to determine whether the university should maintain its accreditation.
Read the full quality check-up report.