Accredited colleges must submit reports to their respective higher education commissions on a regular basis in order to retain their accreditation. If some areas are not at an acceptable level, the visiting group may recommend revocation of the college’s status. More often, however, they require the college to work on the problem areas. They will then return for a follow-up visit, expecting to learn what changes have been made through a Focus Visit. Preparing for the Focus Visit can make the experience much easier on the entire college staff as well as the visiting group.
Of course the first step is to implement the changes required. Voluntary committees are the best way to get people involved in the process, and a variety of staff should be included, even those who don’t immediately seem to be relevant to the topic. For instance, if the topic for the Focus Visit is Academic Assessment, faculty should not be the only members. Administrators from other areas such as student services and support staff should sit on the committee, as well as students. You might even want to invite community members who are not part of the college if the topic seems applicable. Membership should revolve to allow variety of thinking and allow different staff members to learn about the concepts.
After some data has been compiled, a self-study should be put together. The first part should contain an overview that explains the reason for the Focus Visit, the organization of the report, and the members and positions of the initial steering committee.
A bulleted list of the progress since its inception should follow. All the activities of the chair(s) should be outlines as well as any presentations, conferences attended, or publications.
The general points about the newly formed or reformed area should follow, including any necessary definitions. Charts or graphs are helpful for breaking up the information and showing the changes in a different way, as long as they are not overdone.
One chapter should outline the specific of the points within the area. For example, the self-study about academic assessment might include one area about written communication, one area about critical thinking, and so on. The results are also needed.
How the concepts were implemented should be the next section. It should connect the new plan to the college’s mission, staff and students. Describing how the institution has supported the changes is an important part of the self-study.
A final section should include recommendations and appendices that have any instruments used in the process.
The higher education committee should have a chart or outline that shows the required process for such concepts. Connecting the college’s plan to those points is also a significant part of the self-study report.
The actual visit
Before the Focus Visit group arrives, be sure to publish the concepts and results again for the staff. The members of the group are likely to ask around campus to see if people understand the ideas you have put into the self-study. Even if you have published this information before (which you should have), the details need to be fresh in their minds.
Set up a room that includes enough copies of the self-study report for each member as well as several extras. Make sure you or other authors of the report are available at all times in the room; you don’t want to make the visit members have to find you. Make a schedule that allows time for all the important issues and/or people associated with the Focus Visit concept, and stick to it. Refreshments should be available along with comfortable chairs and some tables for the visitors. Set the meeting for a room that is easy to find, free from distractions and near a restroom.
The decision of the Focus Visit members is of course based primarily on the progress that has been made on the area(s) of concern. But these other ideas make the information clearer and more readily available to them. It also makes their stay more comfortable, which makes them more amenable to your suggestions. Setting up a Focus Visit is certainly an important part of the process, but following these guidelines will make the process easier and likely more successful for you and your college.