Thriving is defined as “growing vigorously.” Certainly, NACEP accreditation is a hurdle that many programs strive for, but it is not a finish line in any sense. The 42-year-old Cooperative Academic Partnership Program (CAPP) at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh has been accredited and re-accredited for quite some time. Indeed, as one of the founding member institutions of NACEP, most of our time operating has been between accreditation cycles.
Here are a few tips that may help you when making decisions regarding your program now that the dust has settled on collecting the accreditation data NACEP requires.
- Tip #1 is to make every program decision based on what is best for students. This seems simple, but when juggling your academic department’s needs, the Registrars and Admissions wishes, your partner school’s desires, your adjunct’s hopes, and your concurrent enrollment staff's duties, “thriving” may simply mean that you do not add a new course, or do not re-write a policy, or that you do not grow. In CAPP, we have seen tremendous growth in partner schools over the last 10 years. During one year in this last decade, however, the State of Wisconsin modified its concurrent enrollment oversight and practices, and it became clear that to best serve students in our program, adding more partner schools was NOT in the cards. We choose to double down on our efforts to work with those schools we had in our system, and devote our resources to being there for them 100%, even turning away new partner schools that may have stretched us too thin, and caused us to allow current students to fall through the cracks (which was unacceptable).
- Tip #2 is to be transparent with all players in your program by referencing NACEP standards in your communications with them. While drawing a line in the sands of education can be difficult, we consistently tell people the truth about protocols and practices based on our accreditation. If an administrator or adjunct asks if a student can be added to a course well after the drop date....we say no (S1). If a student claims they missed a deadline for some reason without data to back up their claims, we tell them there is nothing that can be done (and reference S1 and S2). If a potential adjunct disagrees with not being conferred adjunct status due to their academic credentials, we provide them with a path towards adjunct status, but do not modify our standards up front (and cite F1). If an adjunct leaves a course, and no suitable adjunct is onsite to take their place, we remove the course (and students) from our program until the partner school complies with F1 standards. When a program is open and honest all of the time, even with unpopular decisions, your partner schools and on-campus support personnel will appreciate it, and will tow the line as well. Concurrent enrollment is not an easy thing for a school to provide, and we know this. But holding to your NACEP standards 100% of the time is a way to make sure that everyone knows that accreditation matters to the concurrent enrollment staff, faculty members, and partner schools. We mention NACEP standards in some way, shape, or form in almost every communication with key players in our program. For example, when detailing new course offerings (we have 85 classes built) we make sure to highlight the credentials needed for new adjuncts in this course/department....and we reference F1, F3, and F4 up front. This assures that the vision of NACEP is alive and well, even when your program is NOT in the accreditation process. There is no quicker way to have people lose respect for accreditation, than for a program to ignore the standards while in the accreditation trough. If you want to run a NACEP ship, maintain order, and operate at the highest level possible, use NACEP language and requirements all the time when ruling on items that impact your program.
- Tip #3 is to evolve with NACEP (and cause NACEP to evolve as well). There is a neat evolutionary biology dataset that highlights something called the “Red Queen hypothesis” (VanValen, L. 1973. A new evolutionary law. Evol. Theory 1:1-30.). This hypothesis states that populations have to evolve constantly to simply stay where they are in their environment to avoid extirpation. Certainly, a major truth in education is that that only constant is change. Your program, to thrive, must be on the cutting edge of change. As higher education and secondary education change (high-stakes testing paradigms, standards based grading, etc.) so to must your program. Thriving between accreditation requires that your program not look the exact same every year until your re-accreditation efforts ramp up. Almost every day that a program director is at the helm, they have to be aware of the changes in the educational landscape. Indeed, many of our partner schools learn about the next “selective pressure” coming their way from us. In turn, when a partner school sends us some new and novel issue, we must react to it, internalize it, and see how our program can turn to meet the new needs of all. The analogy that I use is a naval one….IHE’s are aircraft carriers….then turn quite slowly at times when compared to our partner school “fighter jets”…..but a great NACEP program will turn the ship enough to allow all of the jets to always find the deck and land safely.
In summary: Hang on to your NACEP accreditation certificate as not just a badge of honor, but as a set of marching orders to serve your HS population at the highest level. This should cause you to change your own program, and your own institution, not just every 7 years….but every day.