I was struck recently by a conversation with a cherished colleague, who from her vantage point as someone who has served on COPRA and led a program through reaccreditation more than once, was apt to remind me that the accreditation process is more than compiling a series of documents hoping to satisfy COPRA. It’s more than a site visit. It’s more than an assessment plan. Instead, it’s a continuous process, not limited to the seven-year accreditation term. While it is all too easy to become wrapped up in the explicit requirements of the Standards and Self-Study Instructions, it is important to take a step back and remember why the public affairs community values accreditation.
Above all, accreditation is a demonstration of a commitment to serving students, to innovating, and to ongoing improvement.
By seeking NASPAA accreditation, programs are distinguishing themselves from other graduate programs and undergoing a program-strengthening self-exploration built on widespread engagement of faculty, students, employers, alumni, university administrators, staff, and other stakeholders. The expectations of Standard 1.3 – Program Evaluation show this most obviously: the systematic evaluation of student (learning) data, faculty engagement, employment outcomes, graduation rates, program diversity, etc., facilitate the conversations which allow programs to pursue strategic goals and take advantage of opportunities to strengthen, in pursuit of mission. The processes encouraged by accreditation provide programs with the data to inform decisions, inspire change, and impact students. It can be easy to forget, especially knee-deep in the self-study year and never-ending faculty meetings, that NASPAA Accreditation is an opportunity to not only strengthen the quality of a program, but also externally validate and showcase programmatic outcomes, lead the public affairs community, promote public service values, and ultimately to enhance the future of public service leadership.