The Evidence Inventory should be thought of as a referenced resource for both the team and the institution to be used prior to, during, and after the On-Site Evaluation Visit. Documentation in the Evidence Inventory should be directly related to assertions made in the Self-Study Report and constrained to representing compliance with the standards for accreditation, requirements of affiliation, policies and procedures, and federal compliance requirements. Therefore, the Steering Committee is responsible for ensuring that it does not comprise a “document dump” of items that only tangentially relate to Commission standards or the institution’s chosen priorities.
Phase 1: Gather Initial Evidence
Initial assembly of the evidence can seem daunting at first but can be useful in developing strategies for further development. Steering Committee and Working Group members should not think of initial attempts to do so as a commentary on an institution’s readiness to engage in self-study or a predictor of future success. Initial steps taken are often beset with concerns about gaps in documentation and how much information is sufficient. Be not afraid! These initial steps are in many ways an assessment used to identify the next steps.
Institutions that have developed an effective, focused, and well-referenced Evidence Inventory first gain a familiarity with the Commission’s expectations and begin collecting documents and descriptions of policies and procedures that might be used in the Evidence Inventory. They do not rely solely on their own knowledge of documentation because this can be overly ambitious; instead, they enlist feedback from staff, faculty, and administrators about what documentation might be available. They consult with offices and units on campus, such as financial aid, academic affairs, compliance, registrar, and other offices whose staff may have expertise related to the standard and know where relevant information is available. Steering Committee members consult frequently with these offices to ensure that identified information sufficiently and appropriately addresses the Commission’s expectations.
At this point, it is also important to discuss what interface the Steering Committee might use to access information to be found in the Evidence Inventory. Some institutions use internal platforms and some use external or commercial software. As the Steering Committee collects documentation it is important to inquire how the information will be warehoused, any technical requirements, and how Working Group members will be given access. Additionally, it is necessary to ensure that the evidence can be uploaded to the MSCHE portal in the required structure and format.
Phase 2: Refine and Reference
At this point in the process, copious amounts of information may have been identified. It now becomes important to discuss how the information will be limited to documentation that is highly relevant and is not unduly duplicative. Questions to answer during the process could include the following:
- Do documents relate directly to the standards and their criteria? For those documents that do not, is it possible to find one or two that more directly relate?
- Do multiple documents relate to one criterion? If so, is it possible for just a few documents to be used to demonstrate compliance?
- Where information is gathered from multiple offices or academic units (e.g., for the purposes of demonstrating the implementation of educational effectiveness assessment process or strategic planning process across an institution), is it possible to summarize the information in the form of a chart or table?
- Is the information provided sufficiently representative to build an accurate snapshot of the status of the institution’s compliance with the standards and their associated criteria?
- Are relevant and appropriate data analyzed and results or recommendations provided?
- Are the analyzed data presented in ways that lead one to believe results were regularly considered and used by stakeholders in the interest of continuous improvement?
- In cases where criteria refer to processes and procedures, can the Evidence Inventory contain a process chart or table instead of only lengthier documents? If such charts or tables are available, can they be appropriately referenced to ensure that the team of peer evaluators can understand what they intend to communicate?
The Steering Committee and Working Groups continue to refine the Evidence Inventory in the interest of ensuring that the information provided is both appropriately representative across the institution and comprehensive enough to enable the team of peer evaluators and institutional representatives to access meaningful information. Please see the examples below:
- Standard I: Mission and Goals—An institution’s stakeholders may ask if consultants were part of a mission review process to learn if there documents or evaluation results were used to revision the institution’s mission and goals the last time such an event occurred.
- Standard II: Ethics and Integrity—Institutions addressing documentation of accreditation-relevant policies and procedures inquire within their institutions if there is a policy committee, internal control office, or “policy on policies” that regularly review, evaluate, and revise policies or create new ones.
- Standard III: Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience--Several institutions explore their current assessment processes to see if there are opportunities for efficiency. Past examples of success have included the aggregation, presentation, and use of course or teaching evaluation results, program review results, and reports from specialized accreditors.
- Standard IV: Support of the Student Experience—some institutions work with their institutional research units to learn if institutional and unit information is regularly compiled and distributed and if such data are broken down by key sub-populations.
- Standard V: Educational Effectiveness Assessment – some institutions may consider whether the supplied documentation provides sufficient evidence of the assessment of all programs and of institutional outcomes (e.g., those relevant to general education).
- Standard VI: Planning, Resources, and Institutional Improvement – institutions refining the initial Evidence Inventory may ask if there is sufficient demonstration of a strategic planning approach both institution-wide and for individual units in the documentation.
- Standard VII: Governance, Leadership, and Administration: Institutions wanting to document the oversight role of a governing body may ask if there is a way to systematically evaluate governing board meeting minutes to discover emerging themes that might track with Commission Standards and their criteria and can be useful for the working group assigned to the standard.
Phase 3: Use in the Self-Study Process
As the Steering Committee and Working Groups complete reports and move toward an initial and then final draft of the Self-Study Report, they also discuss the effectiveness of the referencing of information found in the Evidence Inventory. Institutions that have developed an effective Evidence Inventory avoid unnecessary acronyms, institutional lingo, or titles that peer evaluators are unfamiliar with. Key terms and acronyms are often spelled out in the form of a glossary, or “key institutional phrases and terms” found in the Self-Study Report. When further refining the Evidence Inventory up to and after the On-Site Evaluation Visit, institutions might ask the following questions in the interest of ensuring focus of the information provided and suitable referencing for those outside the institution:
- When references to the Evidence Inventory are made in the Self-Study Report (or vice versa), are these connections clearly communicated or referenced in the Report itself?
- Is the documentation in the Evidence Inventory complete, appropriately representative, and comprehensive so institutional representatives and peer evaluators can effectively and confidently use the information?
- For documents that are necessary but appear complex to an outside reader, is it possible to annotate this information and/or provide excerpts of policies, procedures, reports, and other information?
- Does the documentation align with right-to-privacy regulations and respect the privacy of individuals?
- In cases where a document label is actually a file name, is it clearly understood what information can be accessed by clicking on the file name?
It is important to note that not all the Commission’s Standards and their criteria are equally documentable. Some criteria or Requirements of Affiliation are easier to document than others. In cases where a Steering Committee or Working Group considers it difficult to provide appropriate documentation, it may want to consider providing information within the Self-Study Report itself.
Phase 4: Upload the Documentation to the Evidence Inventory
Once the Self-Study Report is finished, you must upload the Evidence Inventory to the MSCHE portal. The Evidence Tab is where you will go to provide supporting documentation for your Self Study Report.
Navigate to the appropriate review via the drop-down menu at the top left of the page. A submission progress bar will track the completion of all relevant criteria for each standard; it does not track the number of documents submitted for each criterion. Please note, this completion percentage is simply a reflection that each section has been acknowledged. It is not an indicator of the quality of the contents. Some of the features you will find on the portal are as follows:
- The Upload Report tab is where you will upload your Self-Study Report.
- The Uploaded Evidence Library provides a summary of all uploaded evidence you have used. Each document you upload as supporting evidence in the Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation sections will be added to your Evidence library. This offers you an alternative to uploading a document each time you wish to use it as supporting evidence.
- The Evidence Inventory URLs tab allows you to provide up to five URLs to campus documents, such as Handbooks, Catalogs, and Strategic Plans. Please do not include URLs in your institution’s Self-Study Report. However, you may use URLs and external hyperlinks in your Federal Compliance documentation.
Finally, you will use the Additional Documents tab to upload documents requested by the review team prior to or during the on-site visit. After submitting your final Self-Study Report, and upon request by the Review Team, you may submit additional documents up to seven days after the conclusion of the team visit. The team chair will include a list of the Additional Documents you need to upload in the team report.