Accreditation is high-stakes, detailed work. While it can be largely unseen, it is absolutely critical to an institution’s success. But most importantly, it is an opportunity to examine our programs and institutions, to celebrate how amazing they are, and identify how they can become even better. That said, it is not common to have a report come back with no additional questions or monitoring (it is about improving, after all!) – but it does happen. What’s the secret?
Weave enjoyed interviewing Dr. Jason LaTouche, Associate Dean for Curriculum (soon to be Associate Provost and the Associate Vice President for Academic Administration, Operations, and Accreditation), and Morgan Carter (soon to be Dr. Carter), Director of Institutional Analytics, Effectiveness & Accreditation, about their institutional effectiveness journey.
About Tarleton State University
Tarleton State University, located in Stephenville, Texas, was founded in 1899 and has been part of the Texas A&M University System since 1917. Tarleton has recently become a Division 1 school, as well as earned an R2 Carnegie designation. With seven colleges offering over 100 degrees, enrollment has grown to almost 15,000 students across several locations.
Dr. La Touche has been at Tarleton for two ten-year and one fifth year Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) reports, and Mr. Carter began his career at Tarleton in 2008 as a specialist in enrollment management and institutional research, before joining the office of Institutional Analytics, Effectiveness & Accreditation, first as a coordinator and now as the director.
How it Started – the Search for a Better Way
With a ten year reaffirmation approaching in 2010, Tarleton State was motivated to find a better process for their accreditation and institutional effectiveness activities. Moving from a paper system to an electronic one seemed not only easier, but necessary.
Dr. LaTouche: “We had been doing assessment for a while, but it was largely paper files, which makes it very hard to correlate and find systematic processes, or to pass on institutional memory.”
Tarleton had a good process in place for carrying out assessment activities, but there were so many pieces of evidence and other documentation that went beyond standard files, all being stored physically, it was very difficult to pull data and find patterns and trends. The data was so disaggregated and in some places scattered, Dr. LaTouche knew they needed a better way to get and house data to use it to tell their story. They needed technology that could handle that amount of data, as well as align it with the proper units and report areas.
Dr. LaTouche: “When someone looks for software for this purpose, you want to integrate all the pieces – goals, action plans, measures, outcomes. You want a meaningful way to link those pieces together so that people don’t think of them in a disaggregated way.”
The Solution: A Technology Partner
There are several approaches to selecting a software solution, but sometimes it can be easy to focus on aspects that may not actually solve the problem you’re setting out to fix. While features, price, and integrations are certainly important, Tarleton found three other areas that ended up making their work more successful.
Knows Institutional Effectiveness
IE work is nuanced, high stakes, and yet relatively unknown outside of our offices. Finding a software solution with staff that are intimately familiar with the terminology and process of accreditation is invaluable. Simply collecting evidence and narrative in a database is not enough – it should be built to match the regulations, yet flexible enough to accommodate an institution’s unique needs.
Dr. LaTouche: “I am somebody who is trying to get people to think of assessment as an improvement process rather than just a reporting process. One of the most important aspects we needed in a tool was to be able to see what the improvements were. Having action plans directly related to an outcome rather than disaggregated is really powerful in terms of getting people to really use their data, and Weave does this for us.”
Values Customer Service
Accreditation reports and visits are crucial to colleges, and often the core team responsible is not very large. Thorough implementation and responsive and ongoing support is a must.
Tarleton has been using Weave since 2007, and Mr. Carter was particularly impressed and relieved how Weave handled a platform upgrade during their last reaffirmation. Over a decade of files and data had to be moved, and the two systems had to operate concurrently, in order to ensure Tarleton would be prepared for their SACS report.
“Through the years customer service is probably the thing that stands out to me. I get an immediate response and often resolution within a day. Support is never drawn out, it’s a back and forth conversation, which is not what I have experienced with other systems.
During the upgrade, Weave continually reassured us that everything would be transitioned over. They went above and beyond to make sure that everything was transferred – everything. Nothing was missing. A lot of that was line by line work, too. But it was what we needed, and they came through.”
Prioritizes User Experience
Software and training is a big investment! As we all know, user experience is an important key to successful adoption and long term use. A partner that conducts user research, uses that to inform design and workflows, and employs technology to make work more efficient ensures better adoption and less redundancy or frustration. For an IE platform, accounting for many types of users – faculty, staff, administrators, reviewers, and accreditors – is essential.
Dr. LaTouche: “The useability of the interface was helpful to our external reviewers, because we gave them access to Weave – they could go in and look through there. So, having something where it’s laid all out in the expected order, the action plans nested right with the data, it’s really clear how we’re linking the data to what we’re doing with the data for improvement.”
Mr. Carter: “Once users experienced this modern interface and saw the flow, and how easy the software was to navigate, it made my job a lot easier!”
How it’s Going – 100% Compliance
Both Dr. LaTouche and Mr. Carter (and many others!) were thrilled with the results of their last event. To achieve 100% compliance with no monitoring in the off site evaluation is truly an accomplishment! The IE leadership has created a process that fits their institution, promotes a culture of improvement, and applies that concept even to assessment and accreditation processes and continually improves how Tarleton tackles this work.
Mr. Carter: “We were found compliant at our off site even for three of the most commonly cited standards, 8.2.a, 8.2.b, and 7.3. For us to be compliant at our offsite speaks a lot to the effort here at Tarleton, and the documentation and following the process, even though it was tough at times.”
Dr. LaTouche: “We aren’t done yet – we are also integrating general education in this work. Weave is a tool to prompt those conversations. There are also system level SLOs (similar to state gen ed), and the tool’s ability to align those helps faculty think about how they contribute, and allows us to pull data and compile an overall picture.”
Tips for Choosing a Software Partner
- Remember – it’s about improvement. Dr. LaTouche: “View the assessment software as a tool to help you track and coordinate what you’re doing. It should be not about reporting just your data, but leading you through a process of improvement. Make action plans central, put them front and center. Use this robust repository and pieces to use data to affect change.”
- Plan for growth. Mr. Carter: “As we continue to grow this system is important. Using it in more ways with more people ensures alignment and collaboration.”
- Encourage collaboration and sharing. Dr. LaTouche: Models are very useful, and the easier the interface is, the easier it is to share models. Also, there’s going to be turnover – accessible software helps people intuit.
Dr. LaTouche: “We are aiming for a continuous compliance model – we are never ‘having’ another 5 or 10 year – we will be doing this all the time because it’s about improving long term. I think our goal is to serve the core mission of the University, which is to empower and transform students through transformative learning. So assessment is part of the process that helps us take a pulse of ourselves, and whether we are achieving what we think we’re achieving, whether our students feel empowered, and to transform as our community transforms. Because the learning environment of today is not going to be the learning environment of ten years ago. So if we’re not being thoughtful and intentional about tracking where we are, with good measures, we aren’t being thoughtful and reflective about how we use that data to improve.” – Dr. LaToche