September 2020

ACCET Update – Virtual Conference, Virtual Visits, and More (Updated September 4, 2020)

These are extraordinary times, not ordinary times for ACCET and its member institutions, as COVID-19 poses a formidable threat to the health of individuals, organizations, and the economy at the macro and micro level. That said, ACCET is working diligently to assist its member institutions, and there is much that is positive to report.

ACCET Virtual 2020 Annual Conference:  Due to COVID-19, ACCET’s first Virtual Annual Conference was held on August 13-14, 2020, and it exceeded all expectations.  In total, 748 participants attended, which is a 225% increase in attendance compared to any previous ACCET Conference. The participation was broad-based and represented almost 2/3rds of ACCET’s members institutions:

  • 62% (129/204) of all ACCET-accredited institutions participated in the conference, including 68% (65/96) of vocational institutions, 65% (51/79) of IEPs, and 45% (13/59) of avocational institutions. 
  • 91% (680/748) of the conference participants were from ACCET institutions (661 participants) or institutions seeking initial accreditation (19 participants).  The other 9% (68 participants) were ACCET Public Commissioners, ACCET staff, sponsors, and other interested parties.

Some lessons learned from a review of conference survey results and conference participation include:

  • Conference Program:  The 2020 conference program was well balanced and well executed, with sessions appealing to ACCET’s diverse membership.  All sessions received ratings of 4.3 – 4.7 (on a 5-point scale) in the conference survey. 
  • Faculty Track:  The 2020 faculty track of virtual break-out sessions offered for a nominal fee ($40) was extremely popular and well attended by faculty. 
  • Annual Membership Meeting:  Free access to the Virtual Annual Membership Meeting was welcomed by members unable to participate in the Annual Conference, with 41 additional members attending.  

ACCET Membership: Currently, ACCET has 204 main campuses that operate 631 locations. The total number of ACCET institutions remains relatively constant due to a steady stream of initial applicants.  However, the number of campuses and sites continues to decline, with an increasing number of site closures.  

ACCET’s membership is comprised of approximately: (a) 1/3 career colleges and schools, (b) 1/3 language schools teaching English to international students (IEP), and (c) 1/3 avocational institutions offering continuing education and professional development. ACCET accredits institutions operating overseas, including in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordon. 

What makes ACCET unique and exemplary are: (1) ACCET’s partnership for quality®, (2) the focus on student outcomes, (3) fair but high standards, and (4) ACCET’s diverse membership. We learn and benefit from each other.  Although the content of our instruction may vary widely, we can share best practices for instructional delivery and operational effectiveness.

Temporary Flexibilities During the COVID-10 Emergency: ACCET is regularly communicating with member institutions as they face the uncertainties of the COVID-19 emergency and providing updated guidance, including temporary flexibilities available to:

  • all current students; and
  • new students (except F-1 & M-1 students) enrolled by December 31, 2020. 

Since March 2020, the ACCET Commission met six times to approve temporary flexibilities for institutions consistent with the guidance of the U.S. Department of Education  and the Student Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP) to enable institutions to: (1) continue to serve students during COVID-19 and (2) help students complete their training.  Temporary flexibilities approved by the ACCET Commission include:

  1. Temporary closure.
  2. Temporary distance education (without prior approval).
  3. Changes in student enrollment status (e.g. full-time to part-time status)
  4. Consortium agreements (This option is not available to IEPs).
  5. Temporary changes of location (This option is only available to IEPs).
  6. Temporary flexibilities for externships/internships and labs (unless prohibited by any applicable licensing boards or other approval or certifying authorities).
  7. Temporary flexibilities pertaining to: (a) leaves of absence, (b) satisfactory academic progress, and (c) documented verification of high school graduation or its equivalency.
  8. Extended deadlines for the submission of: (a) Annual Completion & Placement Reporting and (b) annual 2019 financial reporting; and
  9. Extended August 6th deadline for the ASER and visit fees for institutions in the December 2020 review cycle.

The ACCET Commission also approved:

  • A streamlined program approval process for IDL delivery. The ACCET Commission voted to reduce fees and expedite the process for the review of applications for program approval to continue distance education after the COVID-19 emergency. ACCET’s rigorous standards for distance education will remain intact, but the application review process will be expedited and less expensive (through August 31, 2020)

The ACCET Commission also approved:

  • The postponement of accreditation visits scheduled in May and June 2020, including visits for (a) initial accreditation, (b) reaccreditation and (c) substantive changes. These visits were postponed until the December 2020 cycle, not because ACCET was unable to conduct the visits, but because it was unfair to institutions to evaluate them at the start of the COVID-19 emergency, as many institutions transitioned to distance education.

Further, the Commission approved:

  • Virtual (1-day/1-person) visits (as a pilot) to be conducted in May – June of 2020, including Readiness Visits to Initial Applicants; and
  • The consolidation of two sets of visits in the December 2020 review cycle and lengthening the visit cycle (from September 1 – November 10, 2020).

Distance Education:  During the COVID-19 emergency, ACCET also conducted a series of 10 free 90-minute Webinars on Interactive Distance Learning (IDL) beginning with two introductory “Back-to-Basics” webinars held in March 2020 for institutions offering temporary distance education during COVID-19. Subsequent IDL webinars were conducted on: (a) IDL best practices and (b) the IDL program approval process for member institutions. These webinars addressed IDL technologies, student IDL orientations, interaction and student engagement, learning management systems, and online assessments.

These IDL webinars promoted: (a) IDL program quality and (b) student success as measured by student retention, student engagement, and student achievement.

Member institutions are notifying ACCET of the temporary measures they are taking in response to COVID-19.  As of July 13th, institutions reported that:

  • 85% are delivering temporary IDL training, with 28% offering hybrid programs.
  • 11% are offering face-to-face instruction.
  • 4% have temporarily closed.

Among all of today’s challenges, there is much that is positive. What are our institutions reporting?  In the “chats” during our 10 IDL webinars, institutions shared their experiences with distance education:

  • What technologies are they using? Zoom, Canvas, Microsoft Teams, Webex & Moodle, Google Classroom, Schoolology.
  • Students are using: e-books, Kindles, I-pads, Lenova tablets, cell phones & I-phones.
  • To engage students, institutions are: (1) using break-out groups, polling, and chats; (2) asking lots of questioning; (3) calling & emailing students; and (4) communicating, communicating, communicating.
  • What is happening in the labs? (1) simulations, (2) demonstrations, (3) Sim Charts, (4) Miller Open Book, (5) case studies in Moodle, (6) interactive graphic, (7) electude for auto technology, (8) lab in the instructor’s garage, (9) dissecting ham & chicken breasts, (10) using virtual labs, and (11) troubleshooting and diagnostic simulation.
  • How are things going at our institutions?
    • Better than expected;
    • Attendance is wonderful;
    • Attendance is good;
    • We’re toward the end of the program so they’re sticking with it;
    • Better than thought, students are so happy to be back in class;
    • Yes, attendance has improved;
    • Attendance has greatly improved.
  • What is the glue that keeps students engaged and retained? – faculty, faculty, faculty.

Many institutions offering temporary distance education, have applied for program approval to offer interactive distance education after the COVID-19 emergency. ACCET institutions have submitted 25 applications for program approval to deliver distance education after COVID-19. 40% of these IDL applications have been reviewed and granted interim approval. The number of IDL applications may double, as the AMS dashboard indicates a significant number of applications awaiting submission. As a reminder, the deadline for submitting IDL program applications under the streamlined process was August 31, 2020.

ACCET Support and Collaboration:  ACCET is providing guidance and support to member institutions as they face the uncertainties of the COVID-19 threat.  On July 8th, ACCET convened a Zoom meeting with EnglishUSA, CEA, and NAFSA to work collaboratively following SEVP’s July 6th notice prohibiting F-1 international students from continuing online education as of the fall 2020 semester. Following our meeting, EnglishUSA organized a news event on July 13th to protest the July 6th SEVP directives.  In attendance were five (5) higher ed news organizations (including The Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed, Study Travel, Pie News), four agencies including ACCET, and ACCET and CEA members. Thanks to the ground-swell of opposition to the online restrictions and lawsuits filed by Harvard, MIT, and others, the July 6th directive was rescinded on July 14, 2020.

ACCET Virtual Visits:  ACCET staff is working diligently to re-invent accreditation in a virtual environment with virtual workshops, virtual Commission meetings, virtual annual conference, and 81 virtual visits in the December 2020 cycle. 

Staff are diligently working to prepare for virtual accreditation visits. This involves selecting and acquiring the technologies necessary to communicate, coordinate, and exchange documents during virtual visits, using DropBox, Zoom, Teams, and WhatsAp.  Staff also revised the Visit Preparation Checklist to provide easy-to-follow instructions for uploading documents in DropBox.

In preparation for virtual visits, staff are conducting numerous virtual visit orientations and training sessions for: (1) Commission Representatives, (2) institutions, and (3) volunteers. On July 24th, 230 ACCET members participated in a two-hour Virtual Visit Orientation presented by ACCET staff.  During the session, there was excellent participation and interaction among those scheduled for visits in fall 2020.  Institutions learned about what to expect of ACCET virtual accreditation visits and how to prepare.  There was an orientation for team volunteers on August 27, 2020 (link to video recording).  Additionally, Commission Representatives will conduct separate structured orientations for each visit team and for each institution to be visited.

Other ACCET Initiatives: Meanwhile, ACCET staff continues to: (1) expand ACCET membership, (2) raise the visibility of ACCET, (3) provide additional services to members and (4) offer opportunities to member institutions and their students in the following ways:

  1. Drafting a Competency-Based Education Template (approved by the Commission at its August meeting to go out for comment) with specific field criteria for competency-based education to provide institutions and students alternative approaches to training.
  2. Pursuing an expansion of scope for ACCET to accredit applied bachelor’s degree programs and continuing to work with three institutions as they establish 4-year degree programs. The first application for an applied bachelor’s degree program was submitted by the California Institute of Arts and Technology in July 2020.  Please let ACCET know if you are interested in being part of this pilot.
  3. Conducting a pilot telephone survey of ACCET avocational institutions to learn directly from institutions: (1) the benefits of accreditation and (2) their recommendations for reaching out to other similar organizations about ACCET accreditation.
  4. Participating on panels sponsored by CAPPS, CSPEN, EnglishUSA and others.
  5. Being interviewed by the editor of Career Education Review for an article on virtual visits to be published in August.
  6. Hosting monthly meetings with 8 accrediting agencies to: (a) discuss the COVID-19 challenges encountered by accreditors and their member institutions and (b) work collaboratively.
  7. Expanding the conversation and convening a joint meeting in June 2020 with these 8 accreditors and the 7 officers of NASASPS, the national association of state licensing agencies. At ACCET’s request, NASASPS subsequently conducted a survey of states to determine: (1) states that require state program approval to change instructional delivery to distance education, and (2) states that have an early end date for temporary flexibilities due to COVID-19.

I am happy to report that ACCET operated in the black in the first six months of 2020. However, going forward, ACCET shares the concerns of all organizations regarding the prospect of decreased and disrupted revenue due to COVID-19.  The award of a payment of over $282,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program provided welcomed COVID-19 emergency relief and averted what otherwise would have been a significant disruption in cash flow for ACCET.

Closing Thoughts: ACCET institutions are being transformed – it’s more revolutionary than evolutionary, as survival is about adapting. We are impressed by the ability of ACCET institutions to continue to support and train their students as they transition to and from distance education due to COVID-19. Institutions are being innovative, adaptive, and agile in response to the ever-changing COVID-19 emergency and working diligently to train and retain their students. ACCET has not experienced an uptick in student complaints against member institutions even in these most challenging times.

Going forward, the ACCET Commission will continue to closely monitor the situation regarding COVID-19 and provide member institutions with guidance as it becomes available to ensure the well-being of member institutions and the well-being of the agency. Public health and public safety are foremost during these uncertain and ever-changing times. ACCET welcomes your continued involvement and support.