by Dianne M. Cearlock, PhD, Chief Executive Officer
Most program officials are probably familiar with the roles and responsibilities of site visitors and many are aware of the activities of the Review Committee on Accredited Programs (RCAP) and the Program Approval Review Committee (PARC). But how many know of the work of the Quality Assurance Committee? The Quality Assurance (QA) Committee is a standing committee of the NAACLS Board of Directors and is mandated to meet prior to every Board meeting. The overarching goals of this committee are 1) to support an ongoing quality enhancement program that addresses quality in the accreditation and approval processes, and 2) to identify, prioritize, and resolve problems indentified in those processes. Membership on this committee includes representation from all facets of the NAACLS review processes such that all steps in program reviews come under scrutiny before final decisions are made. Achieving this goal takes a village of NAACLS volunteers and staff.
The membership of the Quality Assurance Committee is inclusive of volunteers representing all phases of the review process. It includes: 2 Board members (appointed by the Board President), the Board Liaisons for the RCAP and PARC, the Site Visit Process Committee Chair (another Board member and Presidential appointee), the Chairs of the RCAP and PARC, and the CEO. Through this membership there is input from volunteers who review site visit quality (Site Visit Process Chair), form and make recommendations for accreditation and approval to the Board (the RCAP and PARC Board Liaisons and Chairs), and the staff.
The review process begins with the self study which is prepared and submitted by the program. The self study describes the program in detail and explains and documents how the program complies with all the NAACLS Standards. The self study is thoroughly reviewed by NAACLS volunteers (self study reviewers) who then prepare a report based upon the Standards. Programs receive and may respond to the report to expand, clarify, correct any misconceptions, or add any missing documentation. For accredited programs, the next step is the site visit. Site visitors conduct the visit and, like self study reviewers, prepare a report based on their observations and interviews with faculty, students and administrators. Again, the report is shared with the program and the program has the opportunity to resolve any issues that come up with either the self study review or the site visit. Only then do the self study report and response from the program and the site visit report and response from the program get forwarded to the RCAP for review to determine compliance with the Standards. As the large majority of approved programs are not site visited, the PARC usually receives only the self study report and the program’s response. It is these documents that the review committee members use to formulate the RCAP and PARC recommendations for accreditation and approval to the Board of Directors. The RCAP and PARC recommendations are shared with the program and the program has the opportunity to request reconsideration.
The part of the review process that may be unknown to many program officials is the next step. Once due process is met (such as following up on a request for reconsideration of a recommendation) all the RCAP and PARC recommendations are forwarded to the QA Committee for review. The QA Committee’s purposes for reviewing recommendations are twofold: 1) to compare the recommendations with the Standards and NAACLS’ published policies and procedures for alignment and, 2) to examine the recommendations for consistency over time and across programs. The QA Committee may request that recommendations be “pulled” if there are any questions regarding adherence to NAACLS’ Standards, policies and procedures or possible inconsistencies. Should a recommendation be “pulled” volunteers and staff work diligently to either correct or affirm the recommendation. Only then do RCAP and PARC recommendations go forward to the Board for action. Prior to each Board meeting, the QA Committee prepares a report to the Board detailing its activities and making recommendations for process improvement if necessary.
A second key function of the QA Committee that may not be well known is that of validation of documents. Prior to forwarding critical documents (such as the NAACLS Standards, the Guide to Accreditation and Approval, and the Standards Compliance Guide) to the Board for adoption, the QA Committee reviews these documents. The QA Committee seeks to assure that these documents are aligned and consistent with each other. If inconsistencies are discovered the documents are amended until the inconsistencies are corrected. A similar process is followed when substantive changes to the Standards are proposed. Only after correction of any inconsistencies do these documents or proposed changes go forward to the Board for adoption.
With a membership that includes representatives from every phase of the program review process, and the goals of supporting quality assurance practices and resolving problems when they occur, the Quality Assurance Committee draws from the NAACLS volunteer and staff “village” to continuously improve NAACLS’ equity and consistency in decision-making. The work of the QA Committee may not be broadly known but is critically important to NAACLS mission and vision.