When UMW’s College of Education (COE) earned accreditation in fall 2020, you could almost hear the long exhale.
Any higher-education accreditation process is time-consuming and difficult, with the possibility that years of effort will lead only to a suggestion to fix problems and try again. But the pandemic threw an extra curve to COE Dean Pete Kelly and his colleagues.
For nearly three years, they had painstakingly analyzed every aspect of their teacher preparation programs as part of a national accreditation process, set to culminate in March 2020 with a campus visit by a team of evaluators.
The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) team was scheduled to spend a packed 2½ days at Mary Washington, talking with students, faculty, alumni, and representatives from local school districts.
But when COVID-19 sent students home and classes online, the accreditation process also went virtual. Nearly two dozen interview sessions were shifted to Zoom, which for many participants was an entirely new platform.
“Doing that in the first 10 days of the pandemic, with the fear and anxiety people had, it was remarkable we were able to make that pivot,” said Kelly, who had been neck-deep in accreditation efforts since arriving as the dean in July 2017.
CAEP, the only recognized national accreditor for educator preparation programs, had been planning to experiment with virtual site visits before COVID-19 created a global crisis, said CAEP President Christopher Koch.
“Then, we kind of got catapulted into doing it all at once,” he said, with UMW volunteering to be its first participant. “They were very agile in moving to virtual, and they advocated well for themselves. They get a gold star.”
That gold star means UMW’s COE demonstrated excellence in content and pedagogy, clinical experiences, selectivity, program impact, and capacity for continuous improvement – the five rigorous standards required by CAEP for accreditation.
All of Virginia’s teacher training institutions are required to go through the accreditation process once every seven years. It’s an opportunity to examine COE programs, identify areas for improvement, and celebrate what the college is doing well. (UMW’s College of Business undertook a similar process in recent years, earning accreditation from AACSB International in 2018.)
Not every program evaluated earns accreditation the first time around. But UMW and two dozen other programs managed to do just that during “a turbulent time,” Koch said, bringing to 366 the number of U.S. institutions with CAEP accreditation.
“It’s a hallmark that we’re meeting higher standards in the field,” said Professor John Broome, part of the college’s accreditation steering committee. “I’m proud of us for being a small school and being able to get it. It’s important that we did it – and got it right the first time.”
– Edie Gross