U.S. Higher Education Regional Accreditation Commission Standards and the Centrality of Engagement

Valerie O. Paton, Hiram E. Fitzgerald, Birgit L. Green, Megan Raymond, Melody P. Borchardt


This study addressed the research question “How do regional accrediting standards apply to the central role of community engagement in U.S. institutions of higher education?” Using descriptive and qualitative methods, two sources were analyzed: published standards of the 6 regional accrediting commissions in the United States and the transcript of a panel discussion in which leaders from 4 of these 6 commissions shared their views on “engagement and regional accreditation.” From these analyses, 4 themes emerged: (1) the institutional determination of community engagement mission and goals, (2) community engagement in educational programs and student learning, (3) institutional effectiveness and community engagement, and (4) faculty scholarship relating to community engagement. The article concludes with recommendations for institutional practices and supporting evidence to submit to regional accreditation commissions indicating the centrality of engagement in institutional missions. Recommendations are also made regarding peer evaluator training, faculty scholarship, and civic democracy.

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