M. Danaher, K. Schoepp

As a means of assuring quality in their programs, institutions of higher education in recent times have moved to accreditation and to establishing and assessing learning outcomes. Besides assuring quality and beginning the cycle of continuous improvement, this move has been designed to satisfy government or other legislative bodies, employers, students and prospective students, and other key stakeholders. The major impetus for the shift towards learning outcomes has been the requirement set by accreditation bodies compelling institutions to adopt that approach.

Adopting the learning outcomes approach promulgated by accreditors involves considerable effort because institutions with multiple accreditations must answer to a number of organizations which have slightly different expectations. If not well-managed, these processes can seem overwhelming and, at times, duplicative. To set up and maintain an institutional assessment system and also to go through the steps involved to achieve accreditation from a number of accreditors is very demanding on time and resources. Indeed it is a daunting task to institutions with insufficient resources and can be a deterrent to seeking accreditation.

In this paper we describe the processes developed at a university in the Middle East to assess learning outcomes for institutional quality assurance purposes and for the purposes of accreditation. These processes have provided an effective system for institutional assessment and have enabled the institution to achieve Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) accreditation and disciplinary accreditations such as ABET and AACSB.

Based on an analysis of our existing processes we designed a new model. The new model which we are proposing for institutions accommodates the needs of institutional assessment and various accreditation bodies simultaneously. The goals of the model are efficiency, sustainability, and quality.

The model incorporates several key elements:
• an alignment of institutional learning outcomes with the programmatic learning outcomes;
• an alignment of the institutional and programmatic learning outcomes with the learning outcomes of the accreditation body;
• standardized internal processes that constitute the assessment program;
• a centralized structure that coordinates the various ongoing accreditation and assessment efforts within the institution.

The model facilitates accreditation from multiple accreditation bodies and is built around the ethos of continuous improvement. It fosters an institutional culture of assessment as much of it is faculty-driven, a key to faculty buy-in.