ABET

Module 3: What You Need to Know Before the Visit

A. Purpose of the On-Site Visit

The on-site visit enables ABET to assess factors that cannot be adequately addressed in the Self-Study Report. These factors include the intellectual atmosphere, the morale of the faculty and students, the caliber of the staff and student body, the facilities, and the outcome of the education offered as evidenced by the character of the work performed. Key visit team activities during the visit can be broken down into two phases:

  1. Data gathering
  2. Reporting

Key team chair activities during the data gathering phase will be described in detail in this module. The visit team’s objectives while data gathering on site are to:

  • Make a qualitative assessment of factors that cannot be documented in the Self-Study Report.
  • Conduct a detailed examination of the materials compiled by the institution (including course materials and assessment materials).
  • Provide the program(s) with a preliminary assessment of its strong points and shortcomings.
  • Review facilities that support the program(s) being evaluated.

Please Note: Visiting teams should help the programs assess their strong points as well as their weak points. You are not there as an auditor but to assist the program in its continuous improvement efforts.

Key team chair activities during the on-site visit data gathering phase: Manage the visit team schedule.

  • Conduct Day 0 team meeting(s) with visit team.
  • Participate in opening meeting with dean.
  • Interview institutional leaders and visit support areas as needed.
  • Assist individual PEVs in the review of programs (display materials and interview program head and/or faculty).
  • Conduct Day 1 team meeting.
  • Assist individual PEVs with exit statement and Program Audit Form (PAF).
  • Draft team chair exit statement.
  • Conduct informal debrief with the dean(s).
  • Complete A2 Accreditation Action Short Form.
  • Conduct Day 2 team meeting.
  • Lead exit meeting.

We will explore each of these activities in more detail in this module. We will also explore writing findings and the PAF, the levels of compliance and the impact they have on the accreditation recommendation, and team management during the visit in the next module.

B. Manage the Visit Team Schedule

A primary role of the team chair during the visit is to manage the visit team schedule. As discussed in Module 2, the on-site visit is typically two-and-one-half days, with the visit starting by noon Sunday (Day 0) and ending Tuesday afternoon (Day 2). Visit team members travel to the site late Saturday or early Sunday and convene late Sunday morning/early Sunday afternoon for their first team meeting. Visit team members should plan to stay on-site until completion of the exit meeting.

Day 0
A typical Day 0 schedule will include two team meetings and a visit to the institution to tour facilities and review display materials. The team chair should plan to tour common facilities used by all programs being evaluated and review sample display materials, rotating between program(s) if more than one program is being visited. The team chair should also make himself or herself available to review any materials requested by a visit team member.

Morning of Day 1
It is desirable for the full visit team to meet with the dean(s) and chief administrative officer(s) of the program(s) being reviewed. The meeting may or may not include other administrators. This is the dean or chief administrative officer’s meeting; it is an excellent time for the institution to present information pertinent to the institution and to answer questions of general interest. It should be limited to no more than one hour.

Following the meeting with the dean(s) or chief administrative officer for the program(s) being reviewed, the PEVs should proceed with their assignments in the program(s). The team chair should proceed with interviewing institutional leaders.

Luncheon Meeting Day 1
This is the only meal that the institution may host. It often involves key members of the institution’s academic and administrative staff. Other participants may include members of industrial advisory committee(s), students and representatives of support departments.

Afternoon of Day 1
Each visit team member will proceed with his/her own individual assignments, including visits to support areas as previously arranged.

Evening of Day 1
The visit team, as a whole, should reassemble at the end of the day, before dinner. The discussion at this meeting is very important. Each team member should review the findings made with the team and state recommendations with respect to compliance for each criterion and an overall recommendation for accreditation. The visit team members should listen to and challenge one another to ensure that appropriate evidence is being applied to the criteria and that similar findings are handled the same across programs. If a particular situation is found in a program that requires another set of eyes and/or ears, the team chair may wish to ask another team member to join the program PEV the following morning or may do so him/herself. The team chair will also ask each team member how he or she plans to spend the next morning to complete the review and documentation. When the team is large, this meeting may need to be very structured; when the team is small, the meeting can be more informal. It is recommended that this meeting be kept to the minimum time required to review and discuss findings, develop consensus on the recommendations given the evidence available at the time, and establish plans for the next morning. Team dinner plans should be kept simple. Team members will need time to update visit forms and draft the exit statement after the meeting and dinner; be sure to provide this time before it is too late in the evening.

Morning of Day 2
Team members should complete their work, including gathering additional evidence to support a finding and cross-checking other program(s), as discussed during the previous evening’s meeting. They should also review their draft exit statement with the team chair prior to the informal debrief with the program head. This will ensure that each PEV is appropriately citing the criteria and providing evidence for each identified shortcoming and that there is alignment between the team chair and PEV. The expectation is that there will be no surprises for the program head(s) and dean(s) during the exit meeting. The informal debriefs with the program head(s) and dean(s) are typically conducted late morning.

Luncheon Day 2
The team reassembles in executive session for lunch on Day 2. The exact conduct of the luncheon meeting is at the discretion of the team chair and is dependent on the size of the team and the nature of the shortcomings encountered. At a minimum, the team chair will need to ensure that the team is in consensus on the accreditation recommendations for each program reviewed, and that each visit team member has completed all program evaluator forms and drafted an exit statement. If the team is small, the team chair will want to review the forms and exit statements completed by each PEV. If it is a large team, the team chair may wish to pair up the PEVs and have them review each other’s forms and statement before reading them out loud to the entire team. The team chair will collect all required documentation from each team member. Last, the team chair should review the agenda and expectations for the exit meeting with the visit team.

Afternoon Day 2
The entire visit team meets with the dean(s), chief administrative officer, and other administration officials as determined by the chief administrative officer. The purpose of this exit meeting is to:

  • Report the findings of the team, including strengths, shortcomings, and observations for continuous improvement of the program(s) evaluated.
  • Respond to clarifying questions posed by the chief administrative officer and dean(s) relative to the reports.
  • Leave a copy of the Program Audit Form (PAF) with the institution for each program evaluated.

It is very important that the team chair and PEVs state only facts and observations as found and verified. It is also important that the team chair explain the seven-day response period for comment by the institution on matters of fact with regard to items included in the PAF.

C. Conduct Day 0 Team Meetings

Suggested Outline for the First Day 0 Team Meeting
Note: Team chair and team members in executive session — allow 2 hours maximum. Experienced chairs and PEVs should be able to conduct this meeting more expeditiously. The meeting may be held over brunch or lunch.

1. Review procedures and timetable of visit.

  • Remind team members they are to complete required forms and submit them to the team chair before the exit meeting.
  • Remind team members to interview as many full-time faculty members in the program being evaluated as possible, and as many part-time and evening personnel as possible.
  • Emphasize the importance of providing detail in completing forms and being consistent within and between forms and with the review of other programs. The team chair should review the forms and their usage, including which form stays with the institution after the exit meeting.
  • Finalize support area assignments: mathematics; basic sciences; English and communications; humanities and social sciences; library; computer center; other instructional and supporting resources while on-site.

2. Reiterate responsibility of ABET evaluators.

  • Cite general and program criteria (if any), current edition.
  • Cite Accreditation Policies and Procedures Manual.
  • Emphasize cautions, institutional rights to appeals, etc.
  • Stress need for absolute confidentiality.
  • Emphasize that while individual team members have primary responsibility for the review of a program, the report will be from the whole team and thus they need to work together to understand the potential strengths and shortcomings of all programs being evaluated so they can maintain consistency between programs.

3. Expense reimbursement procedures.

  • Note travel policy; discuss procedure and need for certain receipts, any unusual items to be explained; need for approval by team chair, etc.

4. Review detailed schedule.

  • Make sure everyone knows and understands where they need to be when and how they are to get from one location to another. Emphasize the importance of staying on schedule.

5. Review procedure and plan for exit meeting.

  • Exit statement will be cleared with team chair in advance of the exit meeting.
  • The sequence of presentations.
  • Cautions:
    • No surprises between exit meeting and report.
    • All shortcomings to be well-documented with evidence and strictly based on the criteria and policies; cite explicit criteria and/or policy violations for all Deficiencies, Weaknesses, and Concerns.
    • No opinion — stick to the facts.
    • Do not provide the recommended accreditation actions to anyone at the institution.
    • No debates during the exit meeting.
    • Provide an informal debrief with the program head or chair prior to the exit meeting.

6. Review reports of previous visit (if any).

  • Prepare outline of important parts (if appropriate).
  • Allow team members to borrow prior reports, if necessary, but do not take on-site.

7. Review preliminary review of Self-Study.

  • Identify potential strengths and shortcomings. It is recommended that the team chair provide a summary table based upon the initial review turned into the team chair one to two weeks prior to the visit.
  • Allow the team members to ask questions and to discuss potential options for verifying the information and/or obtaining additional evidence while on site.

8. Review role of observers, if any.

9. Address any additional questions by the team.

Suggested Outline for the Second Day 0 Team Meeting
Note: Team chair and team members in executive session — allow one hour maximum. Experienced chairs and PEVs should be able to conduct this meeting more expeditiously. It is recommended that this meeting be held immediately after the visit to the institution to review display materials and tour facilities and before dinner.

1. Share additional information gained from the review of display materials and tour of facilities. Discuss the effect on potential strengths, shortcomings and plans for Day 1.

2. Review detailed schedule for Day 1. Make sure every team member knows when the visit team will meet to leave for the institution, where to meet, what to bring with them/what not to bring with them.

3. Address any additional questions by the team.

D. Participate in Meeting With Dean

The opening meeting with the dean(s) is the dean’s meeting. The institutional personnel present are determined by the dean(s). At a minimum, the meeting should include the dean(s), program head(s) of those programs being reviewed, and the entire visit team. The opening meeting is an opportunity for the institution to highlight unique systems and/or characteristics of the institution and the programs being evaluated. It is also an opportunity for the dean(s) and/or program heads to highlight changes since the self-study was submitted. As team chair, you should be prepared to respond to questions concerning the accreditation visit process. It is recommended that you communicate with the dean in advance of the visit on the agenda and expectations. Ask to limit the meeting to 30 minutes, one hour maximum.

Suggested Outline for the Opening Meeting with Potential Topics for Team Chair

1. Introductions.

  • Introduce the team members.
  • Thank institution for hosting the visit.
  • Note that the ABET visit team is on site at the institution’s invitation.

Introduce the team members.

2. Review visit schedule — highlight changes from previous schedule.

  • Want team members to begin work with the programs as quickly as possible.
  • Confirm final plans for exit meeting time.
  • Confirm arrangements for conference room, meals (including the luncheon or other meal to be hosted by the institution), and transportation.

3. Update from the dean to the team on such things as:

  • Substantive changes in programs subsequent to preparation of the self-study materials.
  • Unique systems implemented by the institution to meet the requirements of the ABET Criteria.
  • Processes administered by the institution that are common to all programs being evaluated.
  • Key continuous improvement efforts.
  • Current semester/quarter statistical update.

4. Review exit meeting procedures (if asked).

  • Request that no tape recorders be used or stenographic transcripts be taken.
  • Oral reports will identify findings, but will not give accreditation recommendations.
  • Will invite factual corrections or identification of omissions or questions due to lack of clarity.
  • Not inviting debate, rebuttal, or extensive discussion.
  • Selection of attendees is entirely the president’s or chief administrator’s decision. If guidance is asked, suggest that at least the president, provost, dean(s), and program head(s) attend. If the president wishes, faculty members, staff, and student leaders can be invited.
  • Copies of the PAF will be left with the dean or the person designated by the dean.

5. Review procedures that take place after the visit (if asked).

  • Review report timeline and procedures. Note that the team is acting as eyes and ears of ABET. The team’s recommendation is not final; it is subject to review and change.
  • Evaluators will submit reports and notes to the team chair before leaving the institution.
  • The team chair writes the Draft Statement after receiving the institution’s seven-day response.
  • The 7-day response should only correct errors of fact or omission.
  • The Draft Statement is mailed to the dean for review and comment (with copy to the president of the institution) eight to 10 weeks (possibly longer), after completion by team chair and two rounds of editing.
  • The institution is requested to respond to the Draft Statement within 30 calendar days of receipt. The institution should report corrective actions taken since visit or other pertinent matters in the 30-day response. More information on what can be accepted in the 30-day response may be found in section II.G.10. of the Accreditation Policy and Procedure Manual. Preferably, the response should be brief and to the point.
  • The commission meets and considers the team’s report and institution’s response before deciding the accreditation action.
  • The commission acts in July, and the institution usually receives the notification of the action by late August. Notification on the final accreditation action will be sent from the President of ABET to the president of the institution.

E. Interview Institutional Leaders and Visit Support Areas as Needed

Your primary investigative responsibility as team chair is to assess the environment and the level of institutional support provided for the program(s) being evaluated. As such, you will interview institutional leaders and one or more visit support areas for the program(s) visited. The institutional leaders interviewed typically include:

  • President/Chancellor/Rector
  • Provost or Academic Vice President
  • Dean(s) of the college(s) housing the program(s) visited
  • Program leaders (depending on the nature and size of the visit; conducted separately from the PEV interviews)
  • Finance officer
  • Student Recruitment/Admissions officer
  • Registration/Records officer
  • Placement Services officer
  • Coop/Internship officer
  • Institutional Assessment officer
  • Other appropriate institutional officials

In your pre-visit preparation, you should have identified the leaders to interview and the facts that need clarification or verification. The following are possible topics for discussion with the various leaders:
President/Chancellor/Rector
Normally this is a short courtesy visit to explain ABET and the visit schedule, particularly the purpose and format of the exit meeting. This meeting also provides the chief executive officer an opportunity to provide his/her views and ask questions about the accreditation process.

Provost or Academic Vice President
This may also be primarily a courtesy visit, but there may be a discussion of topics similar to those discussed with the dean, as well as curricular issues in the program(s) that relate to overall academic policies. This meeting is usually shorter than the meeting with the dean, and pertains to the subset of topics within the purview of the provost/VP. It is also an appropriate time to ask if the provost/VP has any areas of concern that the team might pay particular attention to and/or any questions about the accreditation process.

Dean(s)
You will normally meet with the dean immediately following the dean’s meeting with the team. Your primary focus will be on the administration’s support, resource allocation, and any other administrative aspects of the program(s). Possible topics of discussion for clarification and verification include:

  • The importance of teaching and the support provided in the institution.
  • The importance of research-funded projects in the program(s).
  • The importance of professional and community service (internal and external to the university) for faculty members.
  • Support provided for scholarly and professional development (travel, etc.) of faculty members.
  • Promotion and tenure process (based on information provided in the self-study).
  • Budgeting process, within the institution, college, and program(s).
  • Assessment processes, within the institution, college, and program(s).
  • Administrative autonomy on academic matters (curriculum, admission, etc.) and budgetary matters.
  • Equipment support, maintenance, etc.
  • Staffing plans for the program(s).
  • Salary levels.

Program Leaders (Program Head)
Interviewing the program head(s) of the program(s) evaluated is the primary responsibility of the PEVs. However, if only one program is being visited and/or the visit is an Interim Visit or a Show Cause Visit, the team chair should plan to interview the program head as well. It is recommended that the team chair conduct this interview separate from the PEV(s). The discussion should focus on topics to be clarified and/or verified based upon the pre-visit material review. Possible topics of discussion include:

  • The support provided for teaching.
  • The role of research-funded projects in the program.
  • The importance of professional and community service (internal and external to the university) for faculty members.
  • Support provided for scholarly and professional development (travel, etc.) of faculty members.
  • Promotion and tenure process (based on information provided in the self-study).
  • Budgeting process, within the institution, college, and program(s).
  • Assessment process, within the institution, college, and program(s).
  • Administrative autonomy on academic matters (curriculum, admission, etc) and budgetary matters.
  • Equipment support, maintenance, etc.
  • Staffing plans for the program(s).
  • Salary levels.
  • Finance Officer
  • This interview will primarily be focused on budgetary procedures in support of the program(s) being evaluated, including support for facilities and equipment operation and maintenance.

Student Recruitment/Admissions Officer
This interview will primarily be focused on questions related to the recruiting and admissions processes to recruit and admit sufficient numbers of qualified students.

Registration/Records OfficerThis interview will primarily be focused on questions related to transcripts and verification of graduation requirements.

Placement Services Officer
This interview will primarily be focused on questions related to services provided to students seeking employment, graduate tracking, and employer satisfaction.

Coop/Internship Officer
This interview will primarily be focused on questions related to the cooperative education program goals, policies, and procedures as they relate to academic credit for coop and/or internship work experience. It may also include questions on how the cooperative education office and personnel work with the program(s) to place students, evaluate the students’ performance, and build relationships with employers.

Institutional Assessment Officer
This interview will primarily focus on questions related to the support provided by the institutional assessment office to the individual program(s) assessment processes.

F. Assist Individual PEVs in Evaluating Programs (display materials and interviews)

Depending on the type of visit, the pre-visit review by individual PEVs, and team meeting discussions, as team chair you may need to assist one or more PEVs with the review of display materials and/or interviews. If the visit is an Interim Visit or Show Cause Visit, the team chair should plan to interview the program head in a separate session from the program PEV. A PEV may request another set of eyes to review display materials for one or more courses or the assessment materials. You should make yourself available Sunday afternoon during the on-site visit and Tuesday morning to accommodate such requests.

G. Conduct Day 1 Team Meeting

Suggested Outline for the Day 1 Team Meeting
Note: Team chair and team members in executive session — allow 2 hours maximum. Experienced TCs and PEVs should be able to conduct this meeting more expeditiously. The meeting is held immediately after returning from the institution and is recommended to occur before dinner.

1. Reiterate responsibility of ABET evaluators.

  • Cite general and program criteria (if any), current edition.
  • Cite Accreditation Policies and Procedures Manual.
  • Emphasize cautions, institutional rights to appeals, etc.
  • Stress need for absolute confidentiality.
  • Emphasize that while individual team members have primary responsibility for the review of a program, the report will be from the whole team and thus they need to work together to understand the potential strengths and shortcomings of all programs being evaluated so they can maintain consistency between programs.

2. Review strengths and shortcomings identified from review of Self-Study, display materials, tour of facilities, and interviews with faculty, staff, and students.

  • Each PEV should identify strengths and shortcomings for the program reviewed and provide recommended accreditation action.
  • Allow the team members to ask questions and discuss evidence and criterion citation.
  • Identify additional evidence needed, if any, and plans to obtain on morning of Day 2.
  • Seek consensus on recommendations.
  • Identify common strengths and/or shortcomings that should be included in the team chair exit statement.

3. Review documentation requirements and timing.

  • Draft exit statement complete and reviewed with team chair prior to informal debrief with the program head.
  • Final exit statement during Day 2 working lunch meeting.
  • Final PAF during Day 2 working lunch meeting.

4. Finalize plans for Day 2.

  • Actions to verify/confirm evidence.
  • Actions to draft exit statement prior to informal debrief.
  • Team working lunch agenda.

5. Review procedure and plan for exit meeting.

6. Address any additional questions by the team.

H. Summary of Module 3

In summary, the team chair is very busy during the on-site visit managing the visit team, managing the visit team schedule, and ensuring the quality of the data gathering of the team. All six team chair competencies will be needed to keep the data gathering tasks on schedule and to ensure the team has all the data needed to complete the program review.

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