NSSE Accreditation Toolkits


One of the most common institutional uses of NSSE data is for accreditation. In fact, NSSE schools report that accrediting agencies are the primary external group with which they share NSSE results.

In June 2012, the American Council on Education (ACE) National Task Force on Institutional Accreditation released a report urging the higher education community to strengthen and improve the quality and public accountability of the institutional accreditation process.

Assuring Academic Quality in the 21st Century: Self-Regulation in a New Era is designed to spark productive conversations throughout the higher education community to address the challenges of strengthening the system of voluntary self-regulation.

The report describes current approaches to accreditation, addresses criticisms of the process, and offers six recommendations colleges, universities, and regional accrediting bodies can implement to ensure that the accreditation process is a meaningful guarantor of academic quality. The recommendations are:

  1. Increase the transparency of accreditation and clearly communicate its results;
  2. Increase the centrality of evidence about student success and educational quality;
  3. Take prompt, strong and public action against substandard institutions; and
  4. Adopt a more “risk-sensitive” approach to regional accreditation.
  5. Seek common terminology, promote cooperation and expand participation.
  6. Enhance the cost-effectiveness of accreditation.

The second recommendation’s emphasis on evidence is particularly noteworthy. In response to the growing demand for public accountability, regional accrediting bodies now consider graduation and retention rates, student experiences and learning outcomes, supportive institutional resources, and placement data to be part of a standard comprehensive review that is made public. However, the report highlights the need to ensure these metrics are explained and qualified within the institution’s unique context so as to present a meaningful interpretation. Moreover, evidence must be sensitive to the institution’s mission and the characteristics of entering students and should reflect the educational benefits the institution seeks to provide. Finally, evidence of educational outcomes must be presented systematically and transparently.

NSSE results are meaningful indicators of educational quality and can be used in planning as well as for documenting institutional effectiveness, guiding improvements, and assessing their impact. NSSE data show the levels of engagement of various types of students in effective educational practices during their first and last years of college. Thus, NSSE results are a direct indicator of what students put into their education and an indirect indicator of what they get out of it.

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