Recently Weave convened a group of accreditors to talk about the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic on accreditation site visits. The five panelists shared their experiences so far, and discussed future planning for virtual and hybrid site-visits. Here are the panelists: 

  • Anthony StanowskiPresident and CEO CAHME,
  • Freda RichmondDirector of Accreditation NACEP,
  • Eric Brichto VP for Accreditation, Operations and Council CAHME 
  • Rick SpradlingInternational Liaison Officer CIS

The following is a review of the conversation. For more info and to watch the original webinar, click here.


Implementation of Virtual Visits for Accreditation During COVID-19

Rick: CIS has conducted several virtual visits for full 10 year accreditation and shorter focused visits. An early lesson we are learning is that time zone issues complicate visits because we aren’t there live and often have to be in virtual meetings overnight. The visits take longer and Zoom fatigue is a real thing. We are learning to build in breaks and limit the number of people in each meeting. Virtual visits leave little room for error, so we have to be much, much more methodical in planning. We can’t end a meeting and just run back for a five minute chat about something we forgot to ask. Observing teaching is another area of challenge. We can only log into a virtual class and watch online and remote teaching, and it is much different than seeing a class in person.

Freda: We are in the exploratory space of thinking about how to implement virtual site visits. We are giving extensions and moving the 2021 cycle to offer virtual site visits to all applicants. Travel and lodging expenses are a large burden on schools, so they are anticipating a benefit to school. NACEP is gathering best practices and the commission is meeting over the summer to see how this will work for them.

Anthony: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” CAHME is making good use of this COVID-19 pandemic in optimizing our accreditation procedures. We’ve been working for a year and a half on how to conduct virtual site visits. Prior to the pandemic, we began creating policies and had planned to implement the first visits in Fall 2020. The coronavirus pandemic prompted earlier implementation of the virtual site visit policies and procedures. The first evaluation teams were considered pilots and we are gathering input from teams and schools to help revise policies and procedures over the summer. We recommend starting small and being flexible while building policies.


Security and Technology Considerations

Rick: For virtual accreditation during COVID-19, everyone involved needs to have a robust internet connection. Some people doing these meetings from home may not have that. Consider being flexible and doing audio only. Schools all use different meeting technology, so the accreditation teams need to learn how to be proficient in use of all types. If the school starts the meeting, they may need coaching to know how to control the security settings. Pre-meeting training may help for those that are not used to technology (e.g. sharing screens, using chat, muting, etc.) The team needs to know the schools’ virtual protocols and comply. Child protection and FERPA apply to meetings with students, so make sure that there are no personal images in the background. We suggest using virtual backgrounds. If the visit includes interviews with students, be sure that privacy protocols are in place. Another concern is that if students are being interviewed and parents are listening, there may be a conflict of interest. 

Anthony: Some schools have asked if they can call in, but this is not appropriate for us. We need to see faces and confirm who is in the meeting. However, we make sure that the sessions are not recorded by either party. We want to convey a sense of working together and supporting members, not an authoritative one where you are going to go back and have a ‘gotcha’ moment.


Costs of Accreditation During COVID-19

Freda: We are thinking about opportunity cost for the school. Virtual visits give them more flexibility for scheduling, and teachers can join in from home instead of trying to schedule meetings that are convenient for all. We can leverage cloud technology for data sharing and also take advantage of pre-recorded sessions and presentations. We are also trying to collaborate more with regional accreditors by allowing for concurrent visits, which in turn keeps schools from having to duplicate the work. 

Rick: We are concerned that there are non-financial costs that are added with virtual visits, but the virtual visits are definitely cheaper. We are also looking ahead and are worried that the schools will become accustomed to virtual visits and want to continue with those, when there may be a better benefit with an in person visit.

Anthony: We need to separate the concept of cost from fees. The cost of an onsite visit is clearly more than virtual (travel, lodging, parking, etc). But, CAHME itself incurred increased cost because they had to reimburse their evaluators who had already purchased flights that were non-refundable. Fees covered part of that, but they may increase or add a technology fee to account for administrative costs related to virtual visits. 

Rick: Their administrative costs for the reports and some of the travel arrangements (even with virtual) remains, and the onsite visit costs have been eliminated.

FredaWe are still in planning, but have seen a mad dash of schools requesting virtual visits because they anticipate saving money. Adding a fee for virtual visits seems prudent so the schools have some ‘skin in the game.’


How Virtual Evaluations Compare

Rick: We have some questions trying to determine how accurate our evaluation is when it’s virtual. When the school makes a video of a virtual tour of campus, we don’t know what we don’t know. They may not show areas of concern. Observing instruction and speaking to students live is much more valuable than a virtual visit. We have a hard time getting a good feel for the atmosphere or feeling of the campus virtually. 

Eric: We struggle with this, as well. Facilities and clinical components are a big area of their focus and are difficult to evaluate virtually. For initial accreditation, we need to go physically and make sure the school physically exists. If a school has a virtual visit this year, their next visit must be on site. We typically survey schools after a visit and have added some questions about the virtual process. The feedback overall has been very good.


Planning for the Future: Hybrid Site Visits

Eric: In early March we had 11 site visits scheduled for this spring. We tried local replacements for team members who were uncomfortable traveling, but it’s difficult to prepare at the last minute. Some visits became blended with small groups on site and virtual meetings for other team members. This method may work well in the future. 


Supporting Member Institutions During the Coronavirus

Freda: Our commission came out with good COVID-19 accreditation guidance to assist member schools who were in the middle of an application cycle. We also made the decision to do a ‘cycle-pause’ and allowed applicants to defer to the next cycle, and suspended an academic year for submission of evidence. Schools have the option to collect evidence later on since they may not have an opportunity to collect data. Accredited schools were deferred one full cycle so that there is a full shift, not adding more schools to this next cycle. We also created an LMS system for training for their evaluators (peer reviewer training). The self guided course will be all set for that next cycle.

Anthony: We had ‘boot camp’ (help schools learn about and prepare for accreditation, applicant schools) for late March. Instead of cancelling, we accelerated the process and created a virtual boot camp. We split the training to multiple sessions over multiple days so it wasn’t an 8 hour call. We charged the same amount, creating a subscription model for schools to continue learning through the LMS. Early on we started to see people cancel their registrations, but once we announced the virtual meeting, many who had cancelled came back. We encourage other accreditors to be flexible, adjust for the situation, and focus on the purpose of accreditation.

Eric: We considered just pushing all visits into a future cycle, but just too many scheduled for fall and spring and would have created a bigger problem down the road.

Rick: We have talked with other accreditors who just pushed all visits off a cycle but that is not workable for CIS, because it would create a bulge at a later point that would be unmanageable. We are keeping schools on schedule, where possible, and allowing a small number of schools to slide visits to the next semester. We’ve provided webinars to members on how to work with the virtual visits, and a series of webinars on operations, how to open schools back up, etc.



For more detailed information on this topic, watch the Accreditation During the Coronavirus: Accreditor Round Table webinar recording.




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