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How to Torpedo Any Chance of Achieving Accreditation

Achieving accreditation is a noble goal but, too often, we have seen school administrators torpedo their efforts by making these common mistakes.

So, you want to be accredited?  Great! But wait! Achieving accreditation requires adequate strength. Attempting to climb the accreditation mountain before getting in shape can make you sorry for starting the trek.

Pause for a moment and consider how to avoid the costly mistakes of others who have gone down the same road.

For example, one school contacted our accreditation consulting firm for guidance. As we asked our typical analysis questions, we were pleased to hear that they had 200 students. That is, we were pleased until we learned that these 200 students were in “many branches” and that 100 of them were in their Ph.D. program, which I assumed was not of stellar academic quality.

Perhaps you want to develop your school to the point where you can pursue accreditation. Achieving accreditation is a noble goal but, too often, we have seen school administrators torpedo their efforts by making these common mistakes:

Too Many Programs

It’s never a good sign when a school has more programs than students.

Yes, I actually have seen that situation. For each degree, major, or other type of program, there needs to be adequate faculty, students, titles in the library, and other resources.

One accrediting agency we work with will not advance a school to candidacy until it has a full-time program director for each major or degree program. Starting with just two or three programs is so much easier than starting with 12.

Instead of doing many things poorly, an accrediting agency wants to see you do few things well. Don’t get over extended.

Too Many Branch Campuses

Accrediting agencies make a clear distinction between schools that offer an entire off-site degree and schools that offer under 50% of a degree at an alternate location.

The requirements for offering a full degree outside the main campus are too difficult for most schools that want to seek accreditation. In fact, offering just 50% or more of a degree at another site is probably out of reach. Even having too many sites where under 50% of a degree is offered is a sure way to launch a torpedo at hopes for accreditation.

So, if your school has “branches” at many locations, consider these options:  divorce, turn them into study centers for distance education programs, or turn their degrees into certificate programs.

Offering Doctorates before Your School Is Ready

When a school starts working toward accreditation, it is highly unusual that it has the strength necessary to convince an accrediting agency that its doctorate is of adequate quality. Normally, an accrediting agency informs the school that it needs to choose between accreditation and doctorates. After achieving accreditation and some time has passed, the school may be ready to start offering the doctorates again.

Problems with Presidential Leadership

As an accreditation consultant, I have worked with some really great college presidents. I have also worked with some really not-so-great college presidents. Among the not-so-great are those who are more interested in building their own kingdom than God’s.

Sometimes this leads to the shortcuts that turn a school into a degree mill, a school that promises much and delivers little, a college that resembles the false front of a building on a movie lot.

Another type of not-so-great president is the one who wants to make all accreditation decisions himself, but does not come to the accreditation self-study meetings to really understand what needs to be done.

No president is perfect. An executive search consultant laughingly told me, anyone who knows what is involved in being a college president, and accepts the job, cannot have the prerequisite intelligence to do the job. No president can do everything well. However, if one has a degree-mill philosophy of ministry coupled with a micromanaging and narcissistic personality, he or she will keep a school from becoming great.

Failing to Broaden Your Funding Base beyond tuition and a sponsoring church.

If an accrediting agency accredits your school and three years later your school is out of business, that accrediting agency will look bad to the US Department of Education. Agencies want you to succeed and they know that it is expensive to operate a school at a level that is worthy of accreditation. So, they care about your funding base.

You need money, but you also don’t want to drain your sponsoring church dry. Moreover, what if the church splits and no longer has the means to support your school? You also don’t want to burden your students with a debt that plagues them for years and keeps them living in their parents’ basements.

Thus, a broad-based fundraising program is essential. The more sources of funding and types of fundraising initiatives a school has, the more financially stable it will be.

Having led schools through accreditation since 1994, these are just a few of the mistakes we have helped them overcome. We have also helped generate solutions for faculty who have poor credentials, develop plans for recruiting enough students, train an untrained staff, and strengthen schools in other meaningful ways.

Overcoming problems is good exercise: just as climbing mountains strengthens the legs, overcoming accreditation obstacles strengthens schools.

Enjoy the journey and contact us if you want to take the hike with an experienced guide.

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