An effective self-study process.*

  • Fits the distinctive nature of the organization
  • Achieves stated goals that guide the design and the conduct of the process
  • Ensures effective evaluation of the whole organization
  • Promises to have an impact on the organization beyond the Commission visit
  • Engages multiple constituencies of the organization
  • Builds naturally on existing and ongoing self-evaluation process
  • Has strong presidential and board support
  • Draws on the expertise and credibility of recognized leaders throughout the organization
  • Maintains regular and effective communication links with organizational constituencies
  • Produces evidence to show that the Commission's Criteria for Accreditation are met
  • Produces a self-study report that meets the Commission's needs
  • Testifies to the organization's commitment to peer review

Practical Advice for Creating and Conducting an Effective Self-Study Process

Make Good Preparations

Build on the context of the organization and its ongoing planning

  • Create the stated organizational goals or outcomes for the process; if there are expected priorities for organizational issues, make them clear.
  • Identify anticipated changes or improvements that need to be integrated into the self-study process or the self-study report (for example, review of a change requiring Commission approval.)
  • Make explicit the organization's values and culture that the self-study process must honor.
  • Propose the appropriate linkages between the self-study process and ongoing planning endeavors.
  • Understand the U.S. Department of Education compliance components and ongoing planning endeavors.
  • Consult with Commission staff as needed to determine how the self-study process can be used to meet objectives of the organization's leadership.
  • Determine the size of eh committee in relation to tasks that only the members of the committee can achieve.
  • Use a smaller, more efficient committee charged with creating and working with multiple subcommittees or working groups.

Models to Craft the Self-Study Design

  • Craft the self-study process around the Criteria for Accreditation.
  • Craft the self-study process around the themes identified by the Commission.
  • Craft the self-study process around functional areas of the organization.
  • Organize the self-study process to fit continuous quality improvement structures and processes (including benchmarking as appropriate.
  • Structure the self-study process around strategic planning processes.
  • Build the self-study process around a major mission review process.
  • Build the self-study process around selected topical headings.
  • Create the self-study process to support a learning organization.
  • Develop a customized self-study process in consultation with staff liaison.

Early in the Process

Organization's Leaderships and steering committee must agree on

  • Establish timelines that fit the time available before the team visit.
  • The tasks to be done.
  • The expected outcomes of the process.
  • The budget for the process.

Involve the Right People in the Process

  • Experienced with accreditation, including, if possible, a few veterans who did it a decade earlier.
  • Able to focus on the organization, mitigating against silo-thinking.
  • Recognized for their credibility within the organization.
  • Highly visible and influential within the organization.

Keep in Mind

  • Be very conscious of the risk of task overloading.
  • Recognize the work being accomplished.
  • Provide training, guides, and consultant help, if necessary.
  • Support networking activities.

Establish and Use Effective Structures, Processes, and Techniques

As the steering committee and coordinators plan for the process ahead of them,

  • Creating structures or processes that involve a broad range of constituencies.
  • Using technology for data collection, communication, and networking
  • Establishing effective coordination of all processes within the larger self-study process.
  • Providing effective data management.
  • Overseeing effective use of the budget for the self-study process.
  • Creating a process check system.
  • Including ways to have fun.

Plan for Writing the report

  • Choose one or more writers/editors and clearly define their responsibilities
  • Weigh how direct the linkages must be between working paper generated through the process
  • Create a timeframe for writing, and create strategies for review and revision.
  • Develop the strategy for providing data in the report.

The Self-Study Design Should Include

  • The self-study calendar and timetable.
  • The organization's goals for the self-study process.
  • The fit between the self-study process and the self-study report, and how they will meet both the Commission's and the organization's needs.
  • A working outline that may become the table of contents for the self-study report.

Hallmarks of an Effective Self-Study Report

Substance over graphic design


  • A brief evaluative profile of the organization, including special qualities and distinctive programs
  • A summary of significant changes that have occurred since the last comprehensive evaluation
  • A brief summary of the organizations accreditation history
  • A brief evaluation of the thoroughness of the self-study process
  • A summary of the organization's understanding of and response to the major issues identified by the last team(s)
  • An explicit evaluation of how the organization fulfills each of the Criteria for Accreditation through meeting the Core Components

Teams also find the following very helpful

  • A clear explanation of the purposes of and audience for the report
  • A clear explanation of how the report is organized
  • Identification early in the report of any requests for change that are included
  • A useful table of contents
  • Effective cross-referencing with the report
  • Indexed citations in the report corresponding to appendices to the report and exhibits in the resource room

Teams expect

  • Use of information and data to create evidence to support the organization's self-study
  • Thoughtful analysis of evidence
  • Easily identified and succinctly stated institutional priorities for improvement
  • Honest evaluation, not public relations, characterizes the tone and content of the report

*All information quoted from The Higher Learning Commission Handbook of Accreditation, version 1:10/03


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