Process of Accreditation
Initiating the Process
Invitation from the Institution: For both initial accreditation and renewal of accreditation, the process starts when the chief executive officer of the college or university seeking accreditation sends a letter of invitation to the ACEJMC executive director. After the initial site visit, visits are made at six-year intervals upon subsequent invitations.
The Council works on a multi-year cycle for scheduling visits. A new school must inform the executive director at least three years before it expects a visit in order to be placed on the schedule. In fact, almost all schools or departments seeking initial accreditation schedule the visit three to five years in advance.
An institution that has invited ACEJMC to examine its program and render an accreditation judgment may withdraw its invitation at any time before the final decision by the Accrediting Council on the accreditation status of the unit. ACEJMC may withdraw the accreditation of a unit if, after due notice, the institution does not permit a re-evaluation. When the time for renewal nears, the executive director of ACEJMC reminds the institution.
Postponement of Accrediting Visits: The Council will not routinely postpone accrediting visits except under extraordinary circumstances. For example, it will not grant one-year postponements for purposes of convenience, scheduling, new buildings, internal review, or for a change of administrators.
The executive director has the authority to grant postponements for one year. The full Council considers requests for a second year’s postponement. If the executive director denies a postponement request, the school has fifteen (15) days after receipt of notification of the denial to appeal the decision to the Council’s Executive Committee. If a postponement is approved, an asterisk will be placed beside the school’s listing in the back of this publication indicating that the school has delayed its accreditation visit.
The deadline for requesting postponements is July 1 of the year before a visit is scheduled.
Conducting the Self-Study
The heart of the accrediting process is the self-study, a systematic examination by the unit of the environment in which it operates, its mission, range of activities, accomplishments, and plans for the future. The twin objectives of the accrediting process — quality assessment and quality enhancement — depend on a thorough self-study. A majority of a unit’s faculty and administrators should accept the findings of the study.
The self-study should concentrate on the extent to which a unit achieves its goals. Thus, the quantitative judgments about equipment, faculty, budgets, and the like should be evaluated to show how they help the unit to fulfill its purpose. The team reports will contain a mission statement provided by the unit to help the Accrediting Committee and the Council determine how well the unit is accomplishing its goals.
The periodic self-study is a mechanism for change. It permits a unit to address the need to change its mission or its programs and activities. A self-study preceding an accrediting visit might very well clarify a need to shift emphasis. By the time of the site visit, the shift might not be completed, so that the unit might not be able to accomplish its newly identified purpose. However, the unit should be able to demonstrate that it has made sufficient plans and has won the institution’s endorsement to accomplish that new purpose in the future. If evidence also exists that the unit has accomplished its purposes in the past, the site visit team shall take such a change of emphasis arising from the self-study process as a positive sign.
The Self-Study in Relation to Accrediting Standards: Another major focus of the self-study conducted as a part of the accreditation process is the extent to which the unit complies with accreditation standards. In the planning and design phase, a unit may identify additional purposes for the self-study. In any case, most of the accreditation standards fall naturally within the scope of a comprehensive self-study.
The self-study is not done for ACEJMC alone. An effective self-study depends upon internal motivation, and several factors in the process contribute to internal motivation. The unit participates voluntarily in the accrediting process as a means of quality assessment and quality enhancement. Participation includes the evaluation of the unit’s program and activities against ACEJMC standards. Thus, the evaluation of the unit against those standards becomes a unit purpose.
Organizing the Self-Study: The self-study shall be conducted during the academic year before the team’s visit. The self-study in advance of a site visit generally is conducted every six years.
The design of the self-study will be unique to the unit, depending on its size, the range of its responsibilities, and the specific purposes of the self-study beyond an assessment of the extent to which the unit complies with the accrediting standards. However, the following elements are common to self-studies:
A self-study has two general objectives. First is the assessment of the extent to which the unit is accomplishing its goals, including its compliance with accrediting standards, and its capacity to do so in the future. Second is the development of a plan of action. Two questions to measure the success of the self-study process are: “Did it make things happen? Were they for the better?”
The size and complexity of the unit will affect the structure of the self-study. It is often useful to designate a coordinator to lead the work. The coordinator may work through a steering committee, which will be particularly active in the planning and design phase and in the development of the final report and recommendations. This committee may delegate to others both inside and outside the unit the responsibility for collecting data and evaluating parts of the program.
The unit reviews existing planning documents, previous accrediting reports, and the current standards. It develops a list of key questions to be addressed in the self-study.
At this stage, the unit may set a tentative timetable, draft a preliminary outline for the report, identify the methods that it will use to evaluate its program and activities, develop a list of data needed for the study, decide how the recommendations and action items will be developed, and assign someone to write the report.
The study usually includes an examination of the environment in which the unit functions (within the institution as well as outside), an assessment of the number and quality of students served, the values of the faculty and the institution, the competitive advantages that the unit enjoys, and the strengths and weaknesses of the unit.
These assessments may be followed by an examination and revision of the mission of the unit and the identification of goals, programs, and activities to accomplish the mission. A next step would be the assessment of the extent to which the unit is able to accomplish its goals. Finally, the unit develops plans to enhance the chances of its success and identifies a mechanism to evaluate those plans.
Having developed a mission statement, a unit might go on to examine its goals and whether they are clear and appropriate to the mission. Next, a unit will consider whether the programs and activities it has undertaken to accomplish those goals are consistent with the goals, whether they are working, what problems exist, possible solutions, and the adequacy of resources to meet the goals. Last, a unit will probably wish to explore the extent of its compliance with accreditation standards and how to bring itself into fuller compliance.
The Council views a good self-study as being essential for a successful site visit. The visiting team is asked to assess the quality of the self-study, and the team report includes that summary opinion.
Preparing the Self-Study Report: The executive director sends each unit that has requested a review by ACEJMC a set of electronic files to use in the preparation of the text and tables in the self-study report. These template files provide a coherent structure for gathering and presenting the quantitative and qualitative information that establishes the foundation of an effective self-study document. They are sent in September of the academic year before the visit occurs.
The self-study report contains two parts: Part One, a set of responses to questions about the unit; and Part Two, more detailed information about compliance with the accrediting standards and supporting documentation.
Part One is essentially an introduction to the report. It covers such basics as size of enrollment in each academic specialty, the unit’s mission, membership of the faculty and accreditation history. The information in Part One is included in the site team’s report to the Committee and Council.
Part Two of the report has two parts: supplementary information about the unit’s mission and scope; and a series of sections in which the unit documents its compliance with the accrediting standards. The supplementary information section summarizes the unit’s history and traditions, its purposes and activities and its goals and plans. The sections on each standard contain text and tables providing detailed information related to the standard.
The best self-studies are well written and concise and focus on key issues. They present a candid and balanced view of the unit’s strengths and weaknesses and provide a systematic analysis of the unit’s compliance with the accrediting standards. Assembly of information for the self-study is not intended to burden a unit unduly. Whenever possible, the unit should present information and data in forms readily available.
Submission and Review of the Self-Study Report: The unit submits its self-study report to the Council’s executive director by September 1 of the academic year in which the site visit is to be made, or three months before the visit, whichever is later. The executive director will review the report to determine whether it provides a satisfactory foundation for the site visit. Occasionally, that examination will identify large inadequacies. The executive director has the authority to postpone or cancel an accrediting visit if the self-study is not of sufficient quality for the team to evaluate a unit. In other cases, the executive director may ask that additional information be supplied for the site visit team. The executive director also may cancel an accrediting visit if the unit misses its self-study deadline. After determining that the self-study report provides a satisfactory foundation, the executive director will notify the unit to send copies to the chair and members of the visiting team.
It is the responsibility of the unit to inform the Council of significant changes that occur between the submission of the self-study and the visit or between the visit and the Committee and Council meetings.
Waiver Requests: If a unit seeks a waiver from the expectations of a specific indicator, it must provide reasons and evidence for the waiver in its self-study. When the unit submits its self-study for review, it must specifically request the waiver and identify the standard(s) and page(s) where it makes its case. When the unit submits its self-study to each team member, it must repeat this request. The site team has responsibility to grant or deny the request and must justify its decision it its site report.
The Self-Study Report and the Site Visit Team: The principal responsibility of the visit team is quality assessment. The team must prepare its own report regarding the extent to which, in its judgment, the unit meets the standards of good practice expressed in the general principles and the accrediting standards of ACEJMC. The team must recommend to the Accrediting Committee and to the Accrediting Council the approval, denial, continuation, or change in the accreditation status of a unit.
From its examination of the self-study report before the visit, the team will develop questions about the unit to explore during the visit. The report is the basis of the team’s initial understanding of the unit, its mission, the range of its programs and activities, its evaluation of itself, and its plans for the future. Thus, a report that merely describes the unit is not a satisfactory base on which to build a useful site visit.
A self-study report developed from a careful analysis of the unit’s programs and activities will eliminate the tension that sometimes develops between the team and the personnel of a unit concerning what a team might “find” during the visit. A well-done self-study should eliminate surprises. It also indicates that the unit enjoys good management, establishes its priorities accurately, and uses its resources effectively.
Visiting teams are especially vigilant to determine whether deficiencies in the previous visit report have been corrected. Teams also determine whether schools meet any major claims they have made of outstanding performance in areas other than the 8 standards normally examined by a team.
Beyond its primary functions of quality assessment and the development of a recommendation about the accreditation status of the unit, a site visit team may be useful to the unit in other ways. The self-study may have identified questions that the unit might wish to ask the experts on the team to address during the visit. In that way, the team members could function in areas beyond the measurement of the unit’s compliance with the standards. A request for such assistance should be discussed with the executive director and the chair of the team in advance of the site visit.
Some units couple a program review for accreditation with an internal program review. ACEJMC teams have found that it is best to ask the accrediting team to visit the campus first and to make its report. Based on that report, the administration of the institution can identify additional review steps.
Selection of the Site Visit Team
Site visit teams are chosen by the executive director in consultation with the officers. The institution seeking accreditation has the right to review the composition and curricula vitae of the visit team. It has the right to ask that team members who may have a conflict of interest be replaced and to expect that a majority of members will be from peer institutions and from industry groups and organizations with interests in the programs that the institution offers. Persons invited to serve as members of site visit teams are expected to disqualify themselves if they are aware of any situation or circumstance that might be a conflict of interest (or be construed as a conflict of interest) and thus call into question the independence of their judgments and decisions.
ACEJMC maintains a pool of potential team members, including female and racial/ethnic minority practitioners and educators.
The Council strongly encourages that every effort be made to include on each site visit team at least one industry representative or educator who is a member of an ethnic/racial minority group and at least one female practitioner or educator. The site visit team also should include at least one person who is not a member of the Accrediting Committee or the Accrediting Council.
Each team member receives a copy of the Council’s Site Visit Team Manual, which explains the team’s activities and responsibilities in detail. In addition, the Council offers workshops for team members in conjunction with major meetings of journalism and mass communications education organizations.
Responsibility of the Institution for the Site Visit
During the visit the team will try to learn firsthand all that it can about the unit, its specialties, and its place within the institution. Visiting teams examine every aspect of the unit and institution that might affect the quality of the program. Team members assess quality through interviews with faculty, administrators, students, and representatives of other schools; class visits; examination of student records, alumni records and communications, equipment, and buildings; and analysis of budgets.
Visits are staggered over a period starting in the early fall and ending late February. Precise visit dates are determined by the ACEJMC executive director and the unit administrators. The administrator of the unit being visited is responsible for arranging hotel accommodations for the visit team.
Visits normally start on Sunday night and run through Wednesday morning, but both the days and length of the visit can vary depending on the complexity of a unit’s program and other circumstances. The unit administrator is asked to prepare a detailed schedule for the accrediting visit. He or she should consult with the team chair on planning the schedule. Forms for the schedule are supplied by the executive director.
The school’s administrator has dinner with the team on the first night. It is inappropriate for sequence heads and other faculty members to attend the first night’s dinner. It is permissible for the school’s associate dean or director to attend. The administrator can clarify points in the self-study, answer questions about the visit and schedule, and provide updated or supplementary information. The team chair may wish to arrange for a tour of the building the first night.
Visit teams normally have breakfast with the faculty and lunch with some of the institution’s administrators on the first day of the visit. Although this is not absolutely necessary, it does provide an opportunity to become acquainted. With these exceptions, during the visit team members may not accept invitations to social affairs, such as receptions, cocktail parties, or meals.
The visit includes one 30-minute appointment with the chief executive officer of the institution to present the report and a separate 30-minute appointment with the dean or provost to whom the unit administrator reports. Team members attend classes and interview faculty members. The team conducts two 45-minute group interviews with students, on separate days of the visit. Each interview should be with 20 or more students, if possible. If the unit offers more than one sequence, the unit administrator should arrange for meetings on the second day of the visit with students in the sequences.
The team needs a workroom in the department or school, preferably equipped with Internet, printing equipment and computers, as needed. The executive director provides to each school digital templates with the basic report form prepared in Word.
Many administrators find it useful to distribute a memo about the visit to faculty and students before the team visit. They also should inform them of the team’s recommendation after the team leaves. Often, administrators give faculty a copy of the team report.
Site Visit Report and Response from the Institution
On the last day of the visit, the team must present its report. The report is an important document, the culmination of the visit, and a draft must be completed before the team leaves the campus. The team is required to leave copies of it, including the team’s recommendations regarding the accreditation status of the unit, with the head of the journalism/mass communications unit and with the chief executive officer of the institution (or the highest administrator of the institution on the campus at the time of the visit). Each administrator receives a copy of the report and an invitation to respond with questions, suggestions, objections, and corrections of facts.
Although the on-campus reporting process may vary because of schedules of campus officers, the team usually discusses its draft first with the journalism/ mass communications unit administrator, then with the chief executive officer of the institution. If possible, unit administrators should give the chief executive officer a copy of the report before the meeting between the CEO and the team.
At those meetings, the team chair should explain that the recommendation to accredit rests, first, with the Accrediting Committee, and the final decision with the Accrediting Council.
The team chair shall request that errors of factual information or interpretation (if any) be corrected in a report to be sent immediately to the chair, with an informational copy sent to the executive director. Institution officials may file challenges of fact and judgment with the team chair during the three weeks following the visit. Upon receipt of this additional report from the unit and/or the institution, the team chair shall confer with other members of the team and make such alterations in the team’s report as they collectively deem appropriate.
After three weeks, the team’s chair forwards its formal recommendation and report to the executive director with copies to appropriate institution officials. The decision to publicly release the team report rests with the school or department administrator before the report is sent to the executive director. When the team chair sends the report to the executive director, the executive director may release it.
The cover sheet of the team report includes a statement that it is a draft and may contain errors; that the school or institution may respond and offer corrections; and that the Council makes final accrediting decisions.
Time Limits in the Accrediting Process
The physical site visit establishes the frame of reference for the entire accrediting process. The accreditation decision is based on what is in place in the unit at the time of the site visit. The re-accreditation process is based on the activities, programs and materials that the unit provided to students, faculty, alumni, parents and other interested parties since the previous site visit.
The site team makes its recommendation based on its observations, the self-study, and the catalog and other materials that the unit provides, and in comparison to the ACEJMC standards in place at the time of the visit. In a re-accrediting visit, the site team will pay particular attention to the report of the previous site visit team in terms of strengths and weaknesses of the unit and note any significant changes.
The Accrediting Committee meets once a year, usually in March, to review site team reports. Site team chairs present the reports to the Committee and respond to questions from Committee members. The Committee then forwards its recommendations to the Accrediting Council, which meets in the spring to consider accreditation decisions. The Committee chair presents the Committee’s recommendations to the Council.
Meetings of both the Committee and the Council are open, and unit administrators or representatives may attend to observe and to respond to questions from Committee or Council members.
The Council makes final decisions of accreditation status for the units under review. The president of the Council writes a letter to the institution’s chief executive officer with a copy to the unit administrator informing them of the Council’s decision.
The letter contains a statement of any deficiencies noted and, when the decision is for provisional accreditation or denial, provides notice of the right to appeal.
Council decisions fall into three categories–accreditation, provisional accreditation, and denial. The meaning of accreditation or denial is self-evident. A unit may receive provisional accreditation when the Council has found deficiencies that can be corrected in a relatively short time. The term of provisional accreditation is two years. Schools retain the option to schedule a revisit in one year. Team chairs, each accompanied by another individual agreed upon by the Executive Director and the school, perform a brief revisit near the end of the provisional period. They assess the school’s success in addressing deficiencies and write a report, with an accreditation recommendation, that is considered by the Committee and Council. Provisional accreditation cannot be extended beyond established terms.
When the accreditation is provisional, the Council president includes in the letter to the chief administrator of the institution details of the deficiencies and the process for Council reconsideration. Teams and schools should not think of provisional accreditation as being punitive; it is often the initiative needed to get faculty and administrators to correct serious weaknesses.
Accreditation is for a six-year period. If accreditation is denied, a school may apply for a revisit after two years. For purposes of calculating fees, the revisit invitation shall be considered as if it were an initial invitation.
If a college or university containing a unit accredited by ACEJMC is placed on probation status or has its accreditation revoked by a recognized regional or national agency, ACEJMC will review the unit’s accreditation status within 90 days to determine whether cause exists for withdrawal or other alteration of its status.
In the interest of public accountability and disclosure, ACEJMC requires accredited units to provide retention and graduation data on their websites. Data must be updated annually by Aug. 15.
Units that do not meet this requirement will be placed on probation until the data are provided or until Aug. 15 of the following year, at which time the unit will be suspended.
A unit on probation will be listed on the website as such and in ACEJMC’s quarterly newsletter. The program must pay its annual dues while on probation.
A suspended program will be listed as such on ACEJMC’s website and in its quarterly newsletters. A suspended program will not pay dues. A suspended program will remain on the accreditation review cycle schedule, but a site visit will not be scheduled until the public accountability requirement is met.
A suspended program will be reinstated immediately when the data are published and dues are paid.
ACEJMC publishes on its website a link to the accountability data of each accredited program.
In the case of provisional status, the unit has the option of a one-year or two-year provisional period. Request for a revisit must be sent in writing to the ACEJMC office by July 1 preceding the academic year in which the revisit will occur. The executive director will coordinate with the unit and team chair to schedule the revisit between November and early February. The unit will receive a report template and copy of the original site visit report. The report should be submitted electronically to the ACEJMC office and the revisit team no later than six weeks before the visit date.
Fees paid by units seeking accreditation or re-accreditation are intended to pay the total costs of making the site visits and a portion of the other expenses associated with the accreditation process — Accrediting Committee and Council meetings and staff work. The Council establishes the amount of the accreditation fees. The Council also receives support toward the accomplishment of its purposes from its member organizations and from institutions in the form of annual dues.
Units seeking accreditation for the first time pay a $1,000 application fee, which is due at the time ACEJMC is invited to evaluate the unit. Should the invitation to ACEJMC be withdrawn before the site visit, this fee will not be returned. Accredited units pay $2,000 in annual dues, payable in October of each year.
In addition, units seeking initial accreditation or re-accreditation reimburse the Council for the direct costs incurred by the team during the site visit and by the team chair during presentation of the team’s report to the Accrediting Committee. The Council adds $500 to the cost of the site visit as an administrative fee for the review process.
After the visit has been completed and the expense form and receipts have been received, the executive director will send an invoice to the unit to reimburse ACEJMC for team expenses. ACEJMC must receive this payment for the site visit costs before the Council meeting at which the institution’s accreditation is considered.
After the team chair’s report to the Accrediting Committee, the executive director will bill the unit for the chair’s expenses to attend the meeting. Payment is due before the Council meeting. If the Accrediting Committee overturns the site team’s recommendation, the team chair must be available during the Council meeting when the accreditation decisions are made. The unit will cover expenses associated with the site tam chair at the Council meeting.
When the two-person team chair revisits a school on provisional accreditation or reaccreditation, the school will pay the expenses for the revisit and for the chair to attend the Accrediting Committee meeting to present the revisit report.
Costs for accreditation site visits vary, depending on factors such as the location of the unit and the size of the site team. The number of site team members is based on the size of the school — its enrollment, number of faculty and number of areas/sequences under review. A site team may have anywhere from three members to seven or more.
Principal Dates in the Accreditation Cycle | top
|Units seeking reaccreditation||Units seeking initial accreditation|
|SEPTEMBER 1||3-5 YEARS IN ADVANCE|
|Bills for annual membership dues sent to units.
Guidelines for the self-study report and template files sent to units.
|ACEJMC executive director informed of intent to seek accreditation.|
|Reminders sent to units to be visited in the following academic year.||Arrange required preliminary site visit through ACEJMC executive director.|
|OCTOBER 1||THE YEAR PRIOR TO THE SITE VISIT|
|Annual membership dues paid by units.||Application fees paid by units.
Guidelines for the self-study report and template files sent to units.
Invitations received from college or university chief executive officers.
Invitations received from college or university chief executive officers.
Visit dates set for the following academic year.
Visiting team members selected.
First due date for self-study reports.
(Reports are due Sept. 1 or three months before the visit, whichever is later).
OCTOBER – FEBRUARY
Site visits made, team reports delivered to units and ACEJMC.
Responses to team reports received from units.
Accrediting Committee meets, makes recommendations.
Responses to Committee recommendations received from units.
Accrediting Council meets, makes final accreditation decisions.
Notification letters sent to schools.