Posting Program Outcomes: The Why and How
by Dianne M. Cearlock, PhD, Chief Executive Officer
To meet accreditation and approval standards, NAACLS requires programs to post outcomes for certification exam pass rates, graduation rates, and placement rates in a location that is easily accessible by the public. There are multiple reasons for this requirement.
The first reason is that NAACLS is committed to transparency and fair practices. Current and prospective students, like many consumers, engage in “comparison shopping” for many purchases, and they expect to have information readily available. The selection of an education program is one of the most expensive of all life’s “purchases” and has a profound effect on most people’s lives. The information needed to make an informed choice should be available, accurate, and up-to-date. By posting of recent outcomes in a readily accessible location, programs assist prospective students, employers, and other stakeholders in making critical decisions about education and hiring. Information that is not posted, confusingly presented, deeply buried in the netherworld of the web, inaccurate, out-of-date, in the smallest font size possible, or some other means of obfuscation is in violation of NAACLS standards and fails to adequately serve the public.
An external reason that the posting of outcomes is required by the NAACLS standards is that the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which recognizes NAACLS as an accrediting agency, requires its recognized agencies to include this requirement in its standards. There has been an increased area of focus by CHEA on outcomes statistics availability for some years now, and this focus does not appear to be waning any time soon. CHEA’s Committee on Recognition expects recognized agencies to monitor programs for compliance with the accessible posting of program outcomes, and to document such compliance. In 2016, NAACLS responded by implementing an internal monitoring system and follow-up process. A statistically significant number of randomly selected accredited and approved programs are selected for review on a monthly basis. If the outcomes are not found on websites provided to NAACLS by the selected accredited and approved programs, such programs receive a notice giving 30 days to document compliance by posting outcomes. Programs that do not comply within the 30 day period risk being placed on Administrative Probationary Accreditation for failure to comply with NAACLS’ standards. (A consequence of Administrative Probationary Accreditation is that it disqualifies a program from receiving the maximum accreditation/approval award when a program is up for its next reaccreditation review.) A spreadsheet of all the programs reviewed, along with results and follow-up correspondence, is continuously compiled.
NAACLS’ record-keeping of this process has revealed both good and bad news. The good news is that the majority of programs have appropriately and accessibly posted outcomes, and frequently the roadblocks NAACLS has come across have dealt with website errors that have been easily corrected. The bad news is that some programs have outcomes data but do not post it, or they post the data incorrectly. NAACLS has received a variety of explanations from programs not in compliance, such as new administration/staff, institutional software upgrades, or other IT issues. Sometimes the problem is compounded during the follow-up if a program director fails to receive or respond to the 30 day notification of non-compliance from NAACLS.
It should be noted that NAACLS does not dictate a particular format or style for presentation of the required outcomes data listed in Standard II, and a program is certainly welcome to post comments on the data or even add additional outcomes data if desirable. For instance, programs could add a narrative listing a few major student or graduate achievements. The data presented should be clear, up-to-date, accurate, and easily understood by members of the public – but that does not preclude the program from presenting it in the most inviting way possible. And as with all other types of inquiries, program officials are encouraged to contact the NAACLS staff if they have questions about how to comply with posting