streamlining sacs accreditation with abilene christian university

Streamlining SACS Accreditation with Abilene Christian University

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ (SACS) rigorous accreditation and five-year reaffirmation reporting requirements are time and labor intensive for most universities. But Abilene Christian University (ACU) streamlined its SACS accreditation with Activity Insight’s faculty activity reporting capabilities. At the recent SACSCOC annual conference, ACU Vice Provost Susan Lewis and Digital Measures Solution Specialist Andrew Wiech shared the university’s experience.


Abilene Christian University was founded in 1906 as the Childers Classical Institute for primary and secondary grades. Shortly after its founding, the school pivoted toward higher education and became Abilene Christian College. After decades of steady growth the college’s enrollment boomed following World War II. In 1962, the Board of Trustees adopted an ambitious Design for Development plan, which expanded programs and facilities, and culminated in the change to Abilene Christian University in 1976. Today, ACU continues its mission to foster academic excellence through innovative education, real-world learning opportunities and faculty-guided research. Together, ACU’s 262-acre Abilene campus and its new Dallas branch enroll 4,900 students per year across 70 undergraduate and 27 graduate programs in 135 areas of study.

First Steps

When ACU began using Activity Insight in 2014, it was two years into its current 10-year SACS accreditation. “We were able to implement Activity Insight when we weren’t desperate for the reports to come out immediately,” Lewis said. This fortuitous timing allowed ACU to review the data it was collecting, improve its quality and identify additional data needed to fill gaps in reporting.

your challenges, our expertiseDuring the first 18 months of Activity Insight use, ACU:

  • Revised its own screens, form fields and activity categories
  • Created proprietary reports for annual reviews as well as goal and workload reporting
  • Populated faculty web profiles from Activity Insight data
  • Tailored the instrument specifically to provide the reporting needed for SACS accreditation processes

ACU used the recent SACS accreditation of its new Dallas campus as a test case for its reporting, with clear success. The branch received accreditation in March 2016.

Gathering Data

Lewis set the initial goal of annual review reporting through Activity Insight, with an eye to building the data set over time. “I made a promise to faculty that they only had to do a year at a time,” Lewis said. Faculty were asked to enter current year activities immediately and keep them current, which made annual review reporting possible the first year.

The following year, once faculty were familiar with the system, they were asked to go back and add data from previous years, working back to 2007. Faculty were also trained to use the Publication Import tool to import publication information, making the task easier and reducing data entry errors. When complete, this information will provide the longer view required for SACS accreditation, and make Activity Insight increasingly useful for other reporting needs.

Plugging Data Gaps

Lewis and her Solution Specialist created custom reports to audit missing data, including information needed for SACS accreditation, so information gaps could be filled ahead of required reporting.

For example, SACS reporting on courses taught and faculty credentials requires justifications—information detailing faculty’s qualifications to teach the course. This information wasn’t being captured in ACU’s existing systems, so gathering it for accreditation reporting was a tedious and time-intensive manual process involving data from multiple sources of varying quality.

ACU added a justification field, so the information is now available from Activity Insight for for SACS or any other reporting.

Improving Accuracy

ACU imports data from other campus source systems into Activity Insight. When faculty began using the system, data quality errors originating in the source systems surfaced. “Faculty never log into the human resources system to see if their degrees are correctly recorded—it’s not faculty facing,” Lewis said, so faculty couldn’t previously review the information housed there.

ACU established a process for faculty to report errors that don’t originate in Activity Insight, and the error is traced back to the source system and fixed there. “Now we can be confident that our data is correct,” Lewis said.

Dealing with data quality issues in the second year of accreditation rather than year 4 or year 9 makes it easier to do the required due diligence on data quality. It also helps with data entry. Lewis encourages faculty to update information in real time rather than under annual review deadline pressure. And there’s incentive for faculty to keep activity information current, as faculty web profiles will update nightly on the university’s website beginning in January 2017.

“My mother taught me to clean as I cooked,” Lewis said. “That’s how I think about our investment in Activity Insight.”

Success Metrics and Future Steps

Lewis measures the success of Activity Insight in several ways:

  • Buy-in from leadership and faculty: the flexibility of Activity Insight and Wiech’s responsiveness allow Lewis to maintain her relationships with the colleges, because she can quickly accommodate deans’ requests.
  • Responsiveness: when the university planned a new website, faculty web profiles weren’t part of it. This issue was identified and faculty web profiles delivered from Activity Insight in two months, a remarkably short timeline made possible because the data was already in Activity Insight, and ACU’s team had the needed skills.
  • Time savings across campus: clicking a button rather than manually pulling faculty credentialing rosters and other data is a big win.
  • Data integrity: ACU’s custom data quality reports ensure the completeness, currency and consistency of the university’s faculty activity data in Activity Insight.

Lewis is confident in ACU’s reporting capabilities going into its five-year SACS reaffirmation in March 2017. Next, she plans to implement promotion and tenure reporting through Activity Insight.

Are you looking for a way to streamline SACS accreditation? We’d love to hear from you.

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