Vieth, Laura Scherer
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Within the field of higher education assessment, one area often overlooked is the evaluation of unaccredited postsecondary institutions. This group of institutions is unique, as they are not regulated by a federal agency due to their exclusion from the Higher Education Act of 1965 and its amendments. Because of this, unaccredited institutions are ineligible for federal student aid and thus often under the radar of regulators and lawmakers alike. Although excepted from federal laws, states can permit unaccredited postsecondary institutions to operate in individual states and, in some states, they are not required to obtain accreditation. This creates a gap in oversight as guidelines are at the discretion of state oversight, which vary along with the associated evaluation practices. At regulatory state agencies responsible for oversight of private postsecondary institutions, evaluators are tasked with completing periodic external assessments of institutions that offer education at any level beyond secondary (i.e. high school). This review requires an understanding of institutional operations and educational programming and an ability to apply this knowledge in a compliance evaluation. Given the complexity of higher education evaluation, with competing internal interests and various layers of external regulatory oversight, it is important for state evaluators to periodically examine their own practices to ensure validity and applicability. The purpose of this action research case study was to utilize Stufflebeam’s (1971) Context Input Process and Product (CIPP) model to explore, test, and implement appropriate measures for evaluating unaccredited institutions. The study found that the CIPP Model is a useful tool for expanding and enhancing the evaluation process of unaccredited postsecondary institutions. This was due to the model’s ability to identify systematic components that had previously been excluded from review. Furthermore, and most critically, the study identified that perception is key to quality improvement efforts. In order to effectively plan for and assess changes, efforts should be made by the evaluator to both recognize the perceptions held by both itself, as an individual and a system, and those held by the evaluated. The process of acknowledging perceptions helps to identify biases and assumptions that may cloud evaluator observations. While perceptions are extremely influential, the study found education and experimentation can drive shifts in perception; creating a more authentic position for use in change management.