A success rate, quite literally, does not get better than 100%. Which is why the ACEN is thrilled to share the results of its past two Board of Commissioners meetings. At the July 2017 Board of Commissioners meeting, 73 programs were reviewed for continuing accreditation and 25 programs were reviewed for initial accreditation. In total, 98 programs were reviewed, all of which were granted accreditation.

Dating back further, 62 continuing programs and 14 initial programs were reviewed at the March 2017 Board of Commissioners meeting; again, all 76 programs were granted initial or continuing accreditation. That’s 100% of programs granted accreditation in both the Spring 2017 Cycle (those reviewed in July 2017) and the Fall 2016 Cycle (those reviewed in March 2017).

This is a fantastic success rate, and the ACEN staff are justifiably excited for and proud of these programs. Anyone who has been involved in the accreditation process, either as a member of a program under review or as a peer evaluator, knows how much hard work goes into the preparation and completion of a thorough accreditation review. It may seem surprising that so many programs were successful. After all, accreditation is no guarantee; the Standards and Criteria demand consistent quality, and peer evaluation provides for extensive, experienced, and unbiased review.

So what gives?

While the ACEN never wants to see a program be unsuccessful, the nature of accreditation requires that the ACEN remain responsible for ensuring every program adheres to the Accreditation Standards, which were developed by professionals in the nursing field to represent best practices in all aspects of nursing education. While in an ideal world all nursing programs would be accredited, the Standards and Criteria exist to recognize programs of demonstrable quality as well as those needing improvement prior to joining the ranks of their peers, and in doing so they must be enforced on a consistent basis. No, the answer isn’t that ACEN is becoming lax; it’s that the ACEN staff are constantly striving to be more proactive, and the entire organization is dedicated to its mission of strengthening nursing education by helping programs help themselves.

The recent success in accreditation decisions is truly a testament to the hard work and attentive support provided by the ACEN’s staff (with reliance on an outstanding network of volunteers in the peer evaluation process and the elected Commissioners). The ACEN has a dedicated 22-person staff, all of whom have many specific roles in guiding accreditation processes. At the heart of the ACEN are the professional staff members – experienced nurse educators with seemingly endless responsibilities who guide programs and peer evaluators through each step of the accreditation process.

The ACEN’s four professional staff members are always available to answer questions, provide clarity, and otherwise assist programs in the accreditation process. Beginning the moment a program formally seeks accreditation, all four are superb resources for any program seeking clarity about any aspect of accreditation.

In the Candidacy process, programs are reviewed for eligibility and potential for success in initial accreditation. Any program not quite ready for accreditation is provided feedback and guidance and directed to resources designed to facilitate future success. In some cases, the decision to award Candidacy is deferred to allow programs the time to incorporate feedback, implement changes, and submit a revised presentation for Candidacy. Once Candidacy is achieved, professional staff members continue to prepare programs for the next steps in the accreditation process. In overseeing this process from the initial inquiry until the site visit, the professional staff have become a wealth of knowledge and experience capable of answering any question a nurse administrator may have as their program seeks ACEN accreditation.

It should also be noted that not all programs reviewed were granted continuing accreditation with no stipulations. While the ACEN prides itself on excellence in nursing education accreditation, there is always room for growth and improvement, which is why several programs were granted continuing accreditation with conditions, warning, or warning for good cause. Programs with these stipulations are required to complete follow-up actions to provide further evidence of their efforts to demonstrate compliance with the Standards and Criteria.

This where the professional staff step in. As the primary resources for programs with a stipulation, they work closely with any programs willing to seek assistance as they prepare for the next review. From programmatic discussions and in-depth explanations of the Standards to review of the draft of the Follow-Up Report, the professional staff endeavor to provide programs with as many tools as possible for improvement and success.

Educators know how powerful a tool knowledge can be. With this in mind, the ACEN strives to do everything possible to equip its programs with the understanding and awareness it takes to meet the Accreditation Standards and deliver consistently excellent nursing education at all levels. The Self-Study Forms and Workshops for Program Administrators are delivered in-person by the professional staff and are rife with information designed to broaden understanding of the accreditation process and explain the internal steps needed to successfully demonstrate compliance with the Standards and Criteria while simultaneously improving the quality of the nursing education delivered by each and every accredited program.

The ACEN is also continuously exploring new opportunities to assist programs in the process, including Advisory Reviews, through which programs can submit materials to the professional staff and receive feedback in preparation for the next accreditation review, and Observer Visits, through which a nurse administrator or faculty member has the opportunity to shadow an ACEN site visit team and experience first-hand the evaluator’s side of a site visit.

The ACEN prides itself on being a supportive partner while fulfilling its stewardship responsibilities. We do our best to behave as both leaders and partners in nursing education, and that means remaining accessible, consistent, and forward-thinking. Of course, we can’t take all the credit, either. The faculty and staff of our accredited programs also put constant effort into the delivery of high quality nursing programs; we see it every day in interactions with our partners in education.

The ACEN will review 21 programs for initial accreditation and 79 programs for continuing accreditation in the Fall 2017 Cycle and an estimated 25 programs for initial accreditation and 64 programs for continuing accreditation in Spring 2018 Cycle. A target of 100% success in each cycle may seem high, but the ACEN will never strive for anything less.