On the QEP (and topic selection)
Culled from the Handbook for Reaffirmation of Accreditation
About the QEP
The Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) is the component of the accreditation process that reflects and affirms the commitment of the Commission on Colleges to the enhancement of the quality of higher education and to the proposition that student learning is at the heart of the mission of all institutions of higher learning. By definition, the QEP describes a carefully designed course of action that addresses a well-defined and focused topic or issue related to enhancing student learning.
Core Requirement 2.12 requires an institution to develop a plan for increasing the effectiveness of some aspect of its educational program relating to student learning.
Core Requirement 2.12: The institution has developed an acceptable Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) that (1) includes a broad-based institutional process identifying key issues emerging from institutional assessment, (2) focuses on learning outcomes and/or the environment supporting student learning and accomplishing the mission of the institution, (3) demonstrates institutional capability for the initiation, implementation, and completion of the QEP, (4) includes broad-based involvement of institutional constituencies in the development and proposed implementation of the QEP, and (5) identifies goals and a plan to assess their achievement.
Within the context of their own particular Quality Enhancement Plans, member institutions must specify realistic, measurable student learning outcomes appropriate for their focused topic. Peer evaluators do not hesitate to write recommendations demanding that institutions "provide clearly defined student learning outcomes that lead to observable results."
Within the context of the QEP as a requirement for reaffirmation, the Commission on Colleges broadly defines student learning as changes in knowledge, skills, behaviors, or values.
Selecting the Topic
Developing a QEP is a recursive rather than a linear process, much like any other important, deliberative, and reflective planning and writing. An institution should expect the focus and framework for the QEP to shift and evolve as the research, writing, talking, and campus participation occur. Over time, the focus will become sharper, the outline more certain, and the goals better defined. This consideration and reconsideration are instrumental in the development of greater confidence in the QEP. In fact, a substantial amount of ambiguity is to be expected during the creative phase of the development process.
Since Core Requirement 2.12 demands "a broad-based institutional process identifying key issues emerging from institutional assessment," an exploration of the institution's culture (including considerations such as unique historical circumstances or geographical setting), strategic planning, goals, mission, and assessment results is a good place to begin the search for an appropriate topic. Tapping into issues centered on student learning where shared interests, concerns, and aspirations have already surfaced or where data have already been collected and analyzed may prove fruitful.
Consider that the topic for the QEP need not be a brand new idea. For example, an institution might develop a QEP that extends, modifies, redirects, or strengthens an improvement that is already underway. An institution might also develop a QEP that has been in the planning stages prior to the beginning of preparations for reaffirmation. An institution may not, however, submit a QEP that describes initiatives that are fully realized.
Whatever the source of inspiration, institutions should ensure that the QEP clearly establishes the importance of the topic so that peer evaluators can understand its value and appropriateness to the institution. The On-Site Review Committee will expect the institution to have selected an issue of substance and depth.
A critical factor in the selection of the topic is the determination of the scope of the initiative. While the QEP is not expected to touch the life of every student at the institution, the topic does need to be sufficiently broad to be viewed as significant to the institution and as a major enhancement to student learning. On the other hand, it also needs to be focused enough to provide a manageable framework for development and implementation.
On the other hand, one might argue that an institution has the right to select a broad, complex issue for its QEP, and certainly it does. Doing so, however, demands that extra care be taken in demonstrating to the peer reviewers the institution's capacity for implementing and sustaining the initiative.
Successful QEP topics skillfully balance significance and institutional capacity and stem from a realistic assessment of what the institution can afford and what the institution can expect to achieve in the time allotted.
Viable QEP topics include, but are not limited to, enhancing the academic climate for student learning, strengthening the general studies curriculum, developing creative approaches to experiential learning, enhancing critical thinking skills, introducing innovative teaching and learning strategies, increasing student engagement in learning, and exploring imaginative ways to use technology in the curriculum. In all cases, goals and evaluation strategies must be clearly and directly linked to improving the quality of student learning.