Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)

Managing the Accreditation Process

If you’ve been involved in school maintenance or facilities for any length of time, you have likely participated in some capacity in the accreditation process. There are many associations and boards that provide the necessary accreditations our schools need to show a level of credibility. Our schools are members of these boards or associations in order to provide validation that the school has met an expected standard. These standards tell our customer we are qualified to provide educational services and, once a degree is earned, tell employers that the education one received has been reviewed by an appropriate organization.

Every association has slightly different requirements for their accreditation standards, but from a facilities perspective they are all very similar, with the common goal of demonstrating that our facilities are safe and secure, that they provide an environment which supports the educational mission and vision of the institution, and that the school has a long-term plan for maintaining its campus facilities.

Know the Procedures

The process is similar in most instances. Based on a preset number of years, an institution will perform a self-study of their adherence to the standards. This typically occurs a year ahead of the actual examination visit. Once the self-study is turned in, an association staff member or assembled peer review team reviews the self-study, and makes comments back to the submitting school. From the self-study and comments, a final report is submitted. A survey team, many times made up of faculty and staff members from peer institutions, will perform a site visit to comb through the submitted report. This process generally takes several days and is very thorough. From that accreditation is awarded or affirmed, then the ongoing self-review and adherence begins.

If you are new to your position or have never been through this process, it is advisable to seek out the documents that were submitted for the section your department is responsible for adhering to. When you find them, the next step is a multistage activity. First, study each standard and understand what the vision or intent of each point is, then reflect on how the department currently meets or would endeavor to successfully meet that standard. Next, after careful consideration, read the response that was given in that particular report. Does it match with how the point would be or is currently being met? Is the department doing what was noted in the report? Is the response you initially thought of an acceptable alternate? Document different ideas for future reference. Be certain that current practices mirror those noted in the report. If the practices have changed, again, make note for future reporting. I am not saying that we cannot change how we perform or the things we report, but I am saying that we can and should evolve in our processes, and keeping track of those changes as they relate to the report is a good idea.

Review and Confirm

If you’ve been through this process before it is always good practice to revisit the report from time to be sure that things are still being done as noted. If practices have changed, take the time to document what the changes are and how they tie in with the standard. The visiting accrediting team will likely take the time to query your employees on any number of items that pertain to the standards for your department. If a response to a standard is made up or embellished in order to appear to meet the standard, it is possible they will discover this during a simple conversation with a facilities employee. Say what we do, and do what we say.

Recordkeeping is extremely important. In preparing for an upcoming accreditation visit, our office produced 43 various reports and documents to support the standards to which we are required to adhere. That includes facilities, health and safety. I can only imagine the total number of supporting documents that make up the final report. It is not every day that I pull these particular reports or update these various documents, but as part of the regular update, I must ensure that if there are changes to the way a report reads, or if a departmental standard or procedure is updated, that those updates are noted for future reporting purposes.

These are just a few points to work through when preparing for or ensuring standards are being met on a regular basis. The standards for facilities, maintenance, health and safety are critical to the overall process and therefore a very important piece to earning a school’s accreditation. As always, do your best to support the institution in any way necessary. When they succeed, you succeed!

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Michael G. Steger is director, Physical Plant, for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at Stegemik@berkeleyprep.org.

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