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Updated ACCET Guidance – COVID-19 Temporary Flexibilities

ACCET is continuing to closely monitor the situation regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) and provide our member institutions additional guidance as it becomes available.  At its April 2021 meeting, the ACCET Commission approved an extension of temporary flexibilities until September 30, 2021 for ACCET institutions in response to COVID-19, as permitted by the U.S. Department of Education and published in the Federal Register (Vol. 85, No. 239) on December 11, 2020. 

Temporary Flexibilities: ACCET guidance provides certain flexibilities for institutions that are working to help students complete the term in which they are currently enrolled and identifies options available to institutions so that they can continue to serve current students during the coronavirus emergency (the payment periods that begin on or between March 5, 2020 – September 30, 2021, including:

  • Temporary closure.
  • Temporary distance learning (IDL) delivery.
  • Change in student enrollment status (e.g. full-time to part-time status) (This option is not available to IEPs).
  • Consortium agreements (This option is not available to IEPs).
  • Temporary change of location (This option is only available to IEPs).

NOTE: The temporary flexibilities authorized to ACCET institutions during the COVID-19 threat are finite. Currently, institutions are permitted (without program approval) to temporarily offer distance learning (IDL) to new students through September 30, 2021, with the following exception. The Student Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP) does not permit the enrollment of new F and M students.

  • Externships: Institutions will be permitted the temporary flexibility of offering students whose scheduled internship/externship is disrupted during the period of March 5, 2020 – September 30, 2021 due to the COVID-19 emergency their (each student’s) choice to either:
  1. complete a rescheduled externship/internship, which may require the student to take a leave of absence; or
  2. complete, in lieu of internship/externship, a capstone course comparable in length (clock hours or credit hours) to the internship/externship, unless prohibited by any applicable licensing boards and/or other approval or certifying authorities.
  • Labs: Institutions will be permitted the temporary flexibility of offering students whose scheduled labs are disrupted during the period of March 5, 2020 – September 30, 2021 due to the COVID-19 emergency their (each student’s) choice to either: 
  1. complete rescheduled labs, which may require students to take a leave of absence;
  2. complete simulated labs that: (a) provide synchronous (real time) sharing of hands-on practice using video conferencing, and (b) assess students’ skills based on observed levels of performance during lab time. Note that this option is not permissible if prohibited by any applicable licensing boards and/or other approval or certifying authorities; or
  3. Complete didactic classes comparable in length (clock hours or credit hours) to the labs missed due to COVID-19 on the condition that the institutions schedule make-up labs in the future to provide students the opportunity to subsequently complete labs necessary for students to develop and practice their hands-on skills. Note that this option is not permissible if prohibited by any applicable licensing boards and/or other approval or certifying authorities.
  • Verification of High School (or Equivalent) Completion Status: Where an institution is unable to obtain documentation of an applicant’s high school completion or equivalency, an institution will be permitted the temporary flexibility to accept a signed and dated attestation from an applicant attesting to his or her high school completion and approximate date of completion in lieu of the applicant’s official high school diploma, official transcript, or high school equivalency certificate during the COVID-19 emergency period through September 30, 2021. Note that this temporary flexibility is not permissible if prohibited by any applicable state and/or other approval or certifying authorities.
  • Leaves of Absence (LOA): Institutions will be permitted the following temporary flexibilities from March 27, 2020 – September 30, 2021 relative to leaves of absence, including:
  1. Waiving the requirement that: (a) the institution must approve a written and signed leave of absence request by the student prior to the leave of absence and (b) the student returning from a leave of absence (LOA) must resume at the same point in his/her program that the student began the LOA.
  2. Establishing, even on a temporary basis, a formal written leave of absence policy consistent with any state, federal, and accreditation requirements, if the institution previously did not have a formal written policy.
  • Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP): Institutions will be permitted the following temporary flexibilities from March 27, 2020 – September 30, 2021 relative to satisfactory academic progress (SAP):
  1. An institution may exclude from the quantitative component (pace measurement) of satisfactory academic progress (SAP) attempted credits/hours a student was unable to complete as a result of the COVID-19 national emergency.
  2. It is not necessary for a student to have filed a SAP appeal for an institution to exercise the flexibility identified in item #1. However, to exclude attempted credits/hours from SAP, an institution must have reasonably determined that the student’s failure to complete those credits/hours was the result of a COVID-19 related circumstance.  Allowable circumstances include, but are not limited to, (a) illness of the student or family member, (b) need to become a caregiver or first responder, (c) economic hardship, (d) added work hours, (e) loss of childcare, (f) inability to continue with classes via distance education, (g) inability to access wi-fi due to closed facilities. If an institution temporarily ceases operations during a period of enrollment, attempted credits for all affected students (specific to that enrollment period) may be excluded.
  • Completion and Placement Statistics:
  1. Institutions are expected to report 2020 completion and placement data during the COVID-19 emergency. The U.S. Department of Education defines the emergency period as continuing for “the duration of the national emergency declaration,” unless otherwise specified.
  2. Institutions must continue to document their completion and placement processes and provide student services, consistent with policies and procedures of ACCET, the institution, and any pertinent regulatory bodies.
  3. Institutions will be evaluated for completion and placement data reported for calendar year 2019 (January 1 – December 31, 2019). In addition, institutions will be evaluated for placement verification documentation for sample cohorts for calendar years 2019 and 2020.

Completion Flexibility for Calendar Year 2020 and 2021 Year-to-Date (January 1 – March 31, 2021):  For the Calendar Year 2020 and 2021 Year-to-Date (January 1 – March 31, 2021), the Commission will consider completion waivers for students who are unable to complete their program due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Allowable circumstances, include, but are not limited to:

  • Illness of the student or family member;
  • Need to become a caregiver or first responder;
  • Economic hardship;
  • Added work hours;
  • Homeschooling or child/dependent care issues; or
  • Inability to continue with classes via distance education; and
  • Inability to access wi-fi due to closed facilities.

COVID-19 waivers must be documented including the student’s signature, date, and notification of a specific reason.  Waivers that bring the percentage above 10% will result in adjusted waiver and completion rates and will be reviewed by the Commission.

Placement Flexibility for Calendar 2020 and 2021 Year-to-Date (January 1 – March 31, 2021):  For the Calendar Year 2020 and 2021 Year-to-Date (January 1 – March 31, 2021), the Commission will consider placement waivers for students who are waiving placement assistance due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Allowable circumstances include, but are not limited to:

  • Illness of the student or family member;
  • Need to become a caregiver or first responder;
  • Economic hardship;
  • Added work hours;
  • Homeschooling or child/dependent care issues; or
  • Inability to continue with classes via distance education; and
  • Inability to access wi-fi due to closed facilities.

COVID-19 Waivers must be documented, including the student’s signature, date, and notification of a specific reason.  Waivers that bring the percentage above 15% will result in adjusted waiver and completion rates and will be reviewed by the Commission.

Depending on the duration and severity of COVID-19, the Commission may decide, in future, to review its completion and placement policy such as completion/placement waivers and/or benchmarks.

ACCET will continue to provide information to ACCET institutions as warranted. Institutions are also advised to frequently check the websites of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and other authorities for updated information, including:

 

ACCET Update – Extensions and Additional Temporary Flexibilities Due to COVID-19 (Updated December 17, 2020)

ACCET is closely monitoring the situation regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) and providing our member institutions additional guidance as it becomes available. This ACCET updated guidance (dated December 14, 2020) is to notify ACCET institutions of: (1) extensions to the time-period for temporary flexibilities due to COVID-19, and (2) additional temporary flexibilities approved by the ACCET Commission at its December 2020 meeting.  It is important to note the following:

  • At its December meeting (December 7-10, 2020), the ACCET Commission approved temporary flexibilities identified in this notice for “the duration of the national COVID-19 emergency” to be reassessed by the Commission at its April 2021 meeting (April 5-7, 2021). Further, the ACCET Commission approved additional temporary flexibilities regarding leaves of absence and 2020 completion and placement statistics, which are highlighted in italics below.
  • In approving temporary flexibilities, ACCET is following the guidance of the U.S. Department of Education and the Student Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP), including the period for temporary flexibilities due to COVID-19.
  • On December 11, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education issued additional guidance extending temporary flexibilities for “the duration of the national emergency declaration,” unless otherwise specified. Although SEVP has not issued updated guidance, on December 9, 2020, “NAFSA confirmed with SEVP that guidance for the Spring 2021 term will be the same as for Fall 2020.”
  • Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education announced extended federal student loan flexibilities. Currently, the 0% student loan interest rate and suspension of payments on federal student loans owned by the Department of Education (ED) are set to continue through January 31, 2021.
  • Note that when federal, state, local, and/or accreditation requirements conflict, institutions are required to follow whichever requirement is most stringent.

Temporary flexibilities approved by the ACCET Commission are identified below, including additional temporary flexibilities approved at the December 2020 Commission meeting, as highlighted in italics

Temporary FlexibilitiesACCET guidance provides certain flexibilities for institutions that are working to help students complete the term in which they are currently enrolled and identifies options available to institutions so that they can continue to serve students for theduration of the national COVID-19 emergencyto be reassessed by the ACCET Commission at its April 2021 meeting, including:

  • Temporary closure.
  • Temporary distance learning (IDL) delivery.
  • Change in student enrollment status (e.g. full-time to part-time status) (This option is not available to IEPs).
  • Consortium agreements (This option is not available to IEPs).
  • Temporary change of location (This option is only available to IEPs).

Temporary Distance Education: The temporary flexibilities authorized to ACCET institutions during the COVID-19 threat are finite. Currently, institutions are permitted (without program approval) to temporarily offer distance learning (IDL) to new students through “the duration of the national COVID-19 emergency” to be reassessed by the ACCET Commission at its April 2021 meeting, with the following exception. The Student Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP) does not permit the enrollment of new F and M students in distance education.

Externships: Institutions will be permitted the temporary flexibility (beginning March 5, 2020) of offering students whose scheduled internship/externship is disrupted due to the national COVID-19 emergency each student’s choice to either:

  1. Complete a rescheduled externship/internship, which may require the student to take a leave of absence; or
  2. Complete, in lieu of internship/externship, a capstone course comparable in length (clock hours or credit hours) to the internship/externship, unless prohibited by any applicable licensing boards and/or other approval or certifying authorities.

Labs:  Institutions will be permitted the temporary flexibility (beginning March 5, 2020) of offering students, whose scheduled labs are disrupted due to the national COVID-19 emergency, each student’s choice to either: 

  1. Complete rescheduled labs, which may require students to take a leave of absence;
  2. Complete simulated labs that: (a) provide synchronous (real time) sharing of hands-on practice using video conferencing, and (b) assess students’ skills based on observed levels of performance during lab time. Note that this option is not permissible if prohibited by any applicable licensing boards and/or other approval or certifying authorities; or
  3. Complete didactic classes, comparable in length (clock hours or credit hours) to the labs missed due to COVID-19, on the condition that the institution schedules make-up labs in the future to provide students the opportunity to subsequently complete labs necessary for students to develop and practice their hands-on skills. Note that this option is not permissible if prohibited by any applicable licensing boards and/or other approval or certifying authorities.

Verification of High School (or Equivalent) Completion Status: Where an institution is unable to obtain documentation of an applicant’s high school completion or equivalency, an institution will be permitted the temporary flexibility to accept a signed and dated attestation from an applicant. The applicant must attest to his or her high school completion including the approximate date of completion in lieu of the applicant’s official high school diploma, official transcript, or high school equivalency certificate during the national COVID-19 emergency period. Note that this temporary flexibility is not permissible if prohibited by any applicable state and/or other approval or certifying authorities.

Leaves of Absence (LOA)Institutions will be permitted the following temporary flexibilities during the national COVID-19 emergency period (beginning March 27, 2020) relative to leaves of absence, including:

  1. Waiving the requirement that: (a) the institution must approve a written and signed leave of absence request by the student prior to the leave of absence and (b) the student returning from a leave of absence (LOA) must resume at the same point in his/her program that the student began the LOA.
  2. Establishing, even on a temporary basis, a formal written leave of absence policy consistent with any state, federal, local, and accreditation requirements, if the institution previously did not have a formal written policy.
  3. Due to COVID-19, institutions will be permitted expanded temporary flexibility relative to leaves of absence. Institutions may grant a leave of absence for up to 365 days within a twelve-month period during the national COVID-19 emergency period beginning March 27, 2020.
  4. For institutions that are temporarily closed due to COVID-19, the institutions will be permitted to place students on an “administrative leave of absence” for the period of the institutions closure during the national COVID-19 emergency period.

Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP): Institutions will be permitted the following temporary flexibilities during the national COVID-19 emergency period (beginning March 27, 2020) relative to satisfactory academic progress (SAP):

  1. An institution may exclude from the quantitative component (pace measurement) of satisfactory academic progress (SAP) attempted credits/hours a student was unable to complete as a result of the COVID-19 national emergency.
  2. It is not necessary for a student to file a SAP appeal for an institution to exercise the flexibility identified in item #1. However, to exclude attempted credits/hours from SAP, an institution must have reasonably determined that the student’s failure to complete those credits/hours was the result of a COVID-19 related circumstance.  Allowable circumstances include but are not limited to: (a) illness of the student or family member, (b) need to become a caregiver or first responder, (c) economic hardship, (d) added work hours, (e) loss of childcare, (f) inability to continue with classes via distance education, (g) inability to access wi-fi due to closed facilities. If an institution temporarily ceases operations during a period of enrollment, attempted credits for all affected students (specific to that enrollment period) may be excluded.
  3. Regarding the effect of excluding attempted credits on maximum timeframe, SAP regulations require that the pace at which students progresses through the program ensures completion of that program within the maximum timeframe (150% of program length). However, if credits/hours the student attempted, but was unable to complete, are excluded due to a COVID-19 related circumstance, the credits/hours will be effectively excluded from the maximum timeframe as well as the measurement of pace.

Completion and Placement Statistics:

  • Institutions will report 2020 completion and placement for informational purposes during the COVID-19 emergency. The U.S. Department of Education defines the emergency period as continuing for “the duration of the national emergency declaration,” unless otherwise specified.
  • Institutions will not be assessed for below benchmark rates for completion and/or placement in 2020 during the COVID-19 emergency unless there are extraordinary circumstances. However, institutions are expected to continue to document their completion and placement processes and provide student services, consistent with policies and procedures of ACCET, the institution, and any pertinent regulatory bodies.
  • Institutions will be evaluated for completion and placement reported (Document 28.1s) for the period of 2019 (January 1 – September 30) or 2019 (January 1 – December 31, 2019), if an institution prefers, a period before the COVID-19 emergency.

Completion Flexibility for Calendar Year 2020For the Calendar Year 2020, the Commission will consider completion waivers for students who are unable to complete their program due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Allowable circumstances, include, but are not limited to:

  • Illness of the student or family member;
  • Need to become a caregiver or first responder;
  • Economic hardship;
  • Added work hours;
  • Homeschooling or child/dependent care issues;
  • Inability to continue with classes via distance education; and
  • Inability to access wi-fi due to closed facilities.

COVID-19 waivers must be documented including the student’s signature, date, and notification of a specific reason.  Waivers that bring the percentage above 10% will result in adjusted waiver and completion rates and will be reviewed by the Commission.

Placement Flexibility for Calendar 2020For the Calendar Year 2020, the Commission will consider placement waivers for students who are waiving placement assistance due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Allowable circumstances include, but are not limited to:

  • Illness of the student or family member;
  • Need to become a caregiver or first responder;
  • Economic hardship;
  • Added work hours;
  • Homeschooling or child/dependent care issues; or
  • Inability to continue with classes via distance education; and
  • Inability to access wi-fi due to closed facilities

COVID-19 Waivers must be documented, including the student’s signature, date, and notification of a specific reason.  Waivers that bring the percentage above 15% will result in adjusted waiver and completion rates and will be reviewed by the Commission.

Depending on the duration and severity of COVID-19, the Commission may decide, in future, to review its completion and placement policy such as completion/placement waivers and/or benchmarks.

April 2021 Review Cycle:

  • During the April 2021 visit cycle, virtual accreditation visits will be conducted in lieu of on-site evaluation visits.
  • As required by the U.S. Department of Education, follow-up on-site visits will be scheduled in a timeframe that is reasonably practicable to institutions that have virtual visits for purposes of accreditation, reaccreditation, and/or substantive changes. At a minimum, these on-site visits will be one-day/one-person visits to verify: (a) the facility, (b) student satisfaction, and (c) compliance with any standards with a rating of “1” or “2” in the virtual visit team report.
  • Note that the virtual visit fee will include the cost of a 1-day/1-person follow-up on-site visit, required by the U.S. Department of Education. There will not be an additional fee for the required on-site verification visits, unless the Commission directs an expanded on-site verification visit that exceeds the typical 1-day/1-person visit.

ACCET will continue to provide information to ACCET institutions as warranted.  Institutions are also advised to frequently check the websites of the U.S. Department of Education, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and other authorities for updated information including:

 

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. 

ACCET Guidance Relative to Coronavirus Threat (Updated July 24, 2020)

ACCET is closely monitoring the situation regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) and will provide our member institutions with guidance as it becomes available. Public health and public safety are foremost during this uncertain and ever-changing coronavirus threat.

On July 24, 2020, ACCET held a Virtual Visit Orientation (via Zoom) for all institutions with virtual visits scheduled in the December 2020 review cycle. This orientation addressed the essentials of the virtual visit, including the visit schedule and logistics of remotely sharing documents and conducting classroom observations and interviews at a distance. Resources from this Virtual Visit Orientation are linked below:

ACCET guidance provides certain flexibilities for member institutions that are working to help students complete the terms in which they are currently enrolled and identifies options available to institutions so that they can continue to serve students during the coronavirus threat. ACCET guidance identifies the terms and conditions for exercising these options consistent with the requirements of ACCET and, if applicable, the U.S. Department of Education and the Student Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP). These temporary flexibilities include:

  • Temporary closure.
  • Temporary distance learning (IDL) delivery.
  • Change in student enrollment status (e.g. full-time to part-time status).
  • Consortium agreements (This option is not available to IEPs).
  • Temporary change of location (This option is only available to IEPs).
  • Temporary flexibilities relative to externships/internships and labs.

On May 21, 2020, the ACCET Commission convened and approved: (1) additional temporary flexibilities and (2) extensions to previously approved flexibilities for ACCET institutions during the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency. The attached ACCET notice “Further ACCET Guidance – COVID-19 Additional Temporary Flexibilities” (dated May 21, 2020) to member institutions identifies approved temporary flexibilities in response to COVID-19, with additional temporary flexibilities approved by the Commission on May 21, 2020 in italics, including:

  • The extension of the COVID-19 emergency period to December 31, 2020.
  • The postponement of the 2019 submission deadline for annual financial statements.
  • Temporary flexibilities for the verification of high school completion or its equivalency.
  • Temporary flexibilities for leaves of absence (LOA) and satisfactory academic progress (SAP).
  • The extension of the IDL program application submission deadline (until August 31, 2020) to be eligible for the streamlined IDL program application process for institutions seeking approval to offer IDL instruction after the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Virtual visits to be conducted in the December 2020 review cycle in September– November 2020.

These ACCET approved temporary flexibilities align with “Guidance for Interruptions of Study Related to Coronavirus (COVID-19)” issued by the U.S. Department of Education on May 15, 2020.

ACCET’s guidance (dated May 21, 2020) supplements previous March and April 2020 notices tailored to each type of ACCET-accredited institution, including notices dated March 9, March 10, April 6, and April 16, 2020, as provided below:

Additionally, ACCET hosted a series of free 90-minute Webinars on Interactive Distance Learning (IDL), that began with an introductory “Back-to-Basics” webinar held on March 20, 2020. Additional IDL webinars were scheduled in April and May 2020 for institutions offering IDL programs during the COVID-19 emergency. ACCET staff conducted free webinars on IDL best practices and the IDL program approval process to member institutions. Resources and videos of the previous IDL webinar are provided below:

Vocational Institutions:

  • IDL Webinar #1 – Town Hall (April 13, 2020)

Avocational Institutions, including Institutions Offering Intensive English Programs (IEPs):

  • Interactive Distance Learning (IDL) Webinar (April 13, 2020)

ACCET will continue to provide information to ACCET institutions as warranted. Institutions are also advised to frequently check the websites of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and other authorities for updated information, including:

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