It’s January — have you made your New Year’s resolution yet?
Ours is ambitious and I promise you, we’re sticking to it: to be the absolute best we can be as a school. One important milestone in that journey is our accreditation site visit in April.
Throughout the school, we already have spent many months immersed in this process. Accreditation truly is a process of continuous improvement that neither begins nor ends with the site visit. The visit and certification essentially are a formal recognition that a set of quality standards, set forth by a governing body, have been met. A lot of time, energy and money go into a successful site visit. Yet, the most important part is the self-reflection and studying of our systems and processes leading up to the visit (and should continue afterward).
For us in higher education, accreditation is a big deal. The term is used to describe the process institutions undergo to confirm they meet the strictest educational standards. Accrediting bodies — private, nongovernmental organizations created specifically to review higher education institutions and programs — assess institutions through that lens. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) accredits U.S. dental schools, advanced dental education (residency) programs and allied dental education programs (such as dental hygiene).
Accreditation essentially is a peer review process where the site visitors are colleagues — faculty and staff from other universities — who verify that we are meeting educational standards. CODA functions independently and autonomously in matters of developing and approving accreditation standards, making accreditation decisions on educational programs, and developing and approving procedures that are used in the accreditation process. The commission — itself held to superior quality standards by the U.S. Department of Education — is structured to include an appropriate representation of the communities of interest. For us, that means dental school faculty from other academic health centers, with interest and expertise in dental education.
This process takes a multi-pronged approach. First, each program in the school must submit a comprehensive packet of materials outlining its processes and achievements (you’re probably well aware of the work this has required). After that, a panel of experts visit the school to examine various school features, standards and processes. Being a large school with multiple residency programs, we can expect a site visit team of at least 30 people.
While accreditation sets standards to which dental programs are held, the process also encourages schools to be the best they can be. Furthermore, accreditation aims to ensure accountability on the part of schools and degree programs, in order to boost public trust and confidence. Students can gauge an accredited institution’s overall quality without conducting a detailed analysis on their own. Additionally, many health care professions will not allow students to sit for a licensing examination unless they earned a degree from an accredited school.
I mentioned earlier that the accreditation process does not end with April’s site visit. Successful accreditation is for a set time period. Continuing a regimen of improving our operations will keep us on track for maintaining our accredited status in future cycles. We can’t afford to become complacent. Unlike New Year’s resolutions that often fade in a few weeks’ time, we must hold firm to our commitment to be our best.