Missouri Western State University participates in the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP), a quality-based, continuous improvement model of institutional accreditation through The Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Member – North Central Association (NCA). AQIP is a quality improvement program and a quality assurance program for higher education organizations. It operates by involving institutions in three distinct cycles that occur simultaneously. Each cycle has a different duration and sequence of effective processes.
The one-year cycle drives continuous improvement by having every AQIP college or university tackle three or four Action Projects that it has chosen, committed to completing in a few months or years, and published in AQIP’s on-line Action Project Directory. Organizations can complete Action Projects and begin new ones at any time. Each fall, they provide Action Project Updates to AQIP on the progress of current projects, and AQIP provides written feedback on these reports. Improvements in the processes an institution employs or the performance results it achieves are incorporated into its published Systems Portfolio.
This four-year cycle drives improvement by having every AQIP organization create and maintain an up-to-date Systems Portfolio describing key systems and processes the organization uses to achieve its goals and the performance results it obtains from them. A Systems Appraisal of the Systems Portfolio provides institutions with written, actionable feedback they can use to create strategies and actions that will move them quickly toward achievement of their goals. Participation in a Strategy Forum drives organizations to use this feedback in shaping new strategies, aligning systems, and creating specific Action Projects.
Every 7 Years
This seven-year cycle reviews evidence from both the action cycles and strategy cycles, evidence that demonstrates that an AQIP organization continues to comply with the Higher Learning Commission’s Criteria for Accreditation—and that continuing its participation in AQIP will result in measurable performance improvement. A Check-Up Visit to the institution a year or two before its Reaffirmation of Accreditation review confirms the improvements it is making as well as the accuracy of the evidence it has provided to AQIP while providing helpful feedback and consultation on specific issues of its choosing.
Academic Quality Improvement Project Accreditation Timeline
Missouri Western successfully applied for participation in AQIP in June 2003 with what AQIP reviewers described as a “model application.” A team of Missouri Western representatives attended a first Strategy Forum in November 2003. Shortly after the Forum, Missouri Western submitted three three-year Action Projects. These Projects were chosen from priority areas of Missouri Western’s first five-year strategic plan The Western Advantage—Student Engagement (Academic Affairs and Enrollment Management), Applied Learning (Applied Learning and Student Development), and Communicating Quality (Image and Advancement). These Projects were funded for $100,000 for each of three years and received this funding in the base in the fourth year. They have successfully retired for AQIP but continue in the area of Sustaining Institutional Accreditation Priorities in Missouri Western’s second five-year strategic plan Building the New American Regional University.
Missouri Western submitted its first Systems Portfolio in November 2006 and received its Systems Appraisal in March 2007. Overall, the Appraisers described Missouri Western as a maturing institution in its continuous improvement quality journey. The 2010 Systems Portfolio was submitted on November 1, 2010 with the Systems Appraisal expected in March 2011.
Missouri Western attended its Second Strategy Forum in October 2007 and launched three new three-year Action Projects emphasizing priorities identified in its second five-year Strategic Plan. These Projects are Building Graduate Programs, Enhancing Academic Quality through Critical Thinking, and Using Measurement and Assessment. Those AQIP Action Projects were successfully completed and retired in 2009.
Three current (2009-2012) AQIP Action projects are underway: Preserving Gold, Money Matters for Life and Enhancing Learning Through Distance Education.
Missouri Western’s first Quality Checkup visit was on October 29-31, 2008. Reaffirmation of Accreditation was awarded in 2010. Missouri Western will then enter into a second seven-year cycle of continuous quality improvement and institutional accreditation.
Continuous Improvement Organization
In its move to a continuous improvement organizational model, Missouri Western has implemented a structure guided by the Strategic Planning Steering Committee. The Strategic Planning Steering Committee oversees all strategic planning and implementation activities at Missouri Western. The Council’s responsibilities include:
- Managing the University’s institutional accreditation processes
- Managing the content and production of the AQIP Systems Portfolio
- Coordinating Quality Improvement Projects (AQIP) teams
- Serving as a resource for all continuous improvement activities
- Developing Action Project concepts
Strategic Planning, Continuous Improvement and Accreditation
The strategic planning process at Missouri Western requires the University to identify opportunities and to establish goals and objectives that will move its quality continuous improvement forward. Missouri Western has integrated the AQIP Nine Categories into its strategic planning goals and objectives.
When an AQIP institution is asked to provide evidence it meets the Commission’s Five Criteria, it can reference the same evidence it provides in answering the AQIP Categories questions. The Higher Learning Commission Handbook of Accreditation 6.2 provides an illustration of the alignment between the AQIP Nine Categories and the Commission’s Five Criteria for accreditation.
Cindy Heider, Ed.D.
Associate Provost and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs
Missouri Western State University
4525 Downs Drive
St. Joseph, MO 64507