Mingle with Marcy, November 2019


Your CEO Answers Frequently Asked Questions

By Dr. Marcy Stoll, EdD, MSN | CEO | ACEN
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 4, November 2019

What is the impact of the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education on accreditation?

National, regional, and specialized accreditors that oversee institutional and/or programmatic accreditation are recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE) or Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

  1. The U.S. Secretary of Education is charged with ensuring that an accrediting agency meets specific requirements established by Congress. Depending on the recognition granted by the USDE to the accrediting agency, students attending institutions or programs located in the United States and U.S. Territories may be eligible for federal student financial aid assistance and other federal funding (e.g., HRSA).
  2. The CHEA Board of Directors is charged with ensuring that an accrediting agency meets specific standards established by the CHEA Board of Directors. Recognition by CHEA does not provide students access to any type of financial aid assistance.

The ACEN is recognized as the accrediting agency for all types of nursing education by the USDE and CHEA, and is the only nursing accrediting agency recognized by both entities. The USDE recognition of the ACEN also allows students enrolled in all types of nursing education programs offered by certain institutions to participate in financial aid programs administered by the USDE and other federal agencies. The CHEA recognition also facilities ACEN accreditation of nursing programs outside of the United States.

The USDE and CHEA have recognition criteria unique to each organization that an accrediting agency must meet to be recognized by the USDE or CHEA. The ACEN meeting the USDE and/or CHEA recognition criteria is equivalent to a nursing program meeting the ACEN Standards and Criteria for initial or continuing accreditation.

To what extent does the USDE and CHEA impact ACEN accreditation?

The short answer is “there is a great deal of impact” by both organizations and most especially by the USDE.

USDE Impact: The Higher Education Act (HEA) is the law that is the basis for the USDE regulations that accrediting agencies must follow to be recognized. The HEA has been rewritten eight times since it initially passed in 1965, and like any federal law, is “driven by the times.” Federal regulations changed variably each time the law was rewritten, and all accrediting agencies must change to comply with the most current federal regulations. Sometimes the changes only impacts the accrediting agency, but sometimes institutions/programs are impacted as well. An example of this is the current focus on student achievement indicators, such as licensure examination pass rate, completion rate, and job placement rate.

CHEA Impact: There is no law that serves as the basis for CHEA recognition criteria; however, CHEA is aware of the trends happening throughout the United States and globally. Therefore, CHEA recognition criteria are similar to the USDE, only differing as CHEA focuses on international educational quality, which is not part of USDE regulation. An example of one of CHEA’s similar criteria pertains to student achievement.

New Leadership Offerings at OADN


By Mary Dickow, MPA, FAAN | Director of Strategic Initiatives | Organization for Associate Degree Nursing (OADN)
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 4, November 2019

At the 2019 Convention, OADN worked in partnership with the ACEN to deliver a full-day session entitled Be the Leader You Would Follow: Essentials for Great Leadership in Nursing. That session drew enormous interest from nurse educators attracted to this full-day, interactive experience. It provided the participants the opportunity to work on personal leadership development plans as well as to gain valuable tools and resources to take back to their programs to address real-time solutions. Other sessions offered on Professional Identity in Nursing and Critical Conversations were two of the highest attended breakout sessions, targeting important issues for nurse educators. OADN remains committed to staying engaged with the leadership pulse by paying attention to the current trends that affect nursing education and contributing to the success of nurse educators.

OADN understands the challenges and hurdles nurse educators face every day. With a goal to prepare them with the tools to address these challenges, OADN is planning to offer new leadership development opportunities to identify solutions. An exciting leadership development track is in the works for the 2020 Convention with topics such as mentoring, goal setting, and succession planning. As the only national nursing organization representing ADN programs, we have a responsibility to offer a strong leadership platform for new directors and faculty aspiring to lead. Everything OADN does to better prepare nurse educators is a reflection on the students and the communities surrounding the many community colleges across the nation. OADN is ready now more than ever to contribute to the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve the vision of creating healthier communities—one nurse leader at a time.

Working with national leaders such as the ACEN, OADN is in the process of developing webinars and pop-up sessions on hot topics in leadership to offer throughout the year. In addition, OADN is exploring ways to incorporate what was gained from the recent membership survey to demonstrate a commitment to taking what nurse educators say they need, then creating valuable content to address those needs. As OADN continues to grow, it is essential to acknowledge the importance of growing and mentoring new leaders while providing unique opportunities for the more seasoned leaders as well. OADN is committed to developing successful nurse leaders with a vision for 2020 and beyond!

Top 10 Ways to Get or Keep Your Faculty Engaged


By Suzette Farmer, PhD, RN | Director | ACEN
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 4, November 2019

Ever wondered how to engage faculty in the accreditation process? Read this article to see the Top 10 strategies for engaging faculty and ensuring program success during your next accreditation site visit!


Live accreditation every day—be visit-ready all the time. Create a culture where accreditation is not a dirty word!! For example, use ACEN terminology during meetings…make accreditation processes “normal” and familiar in your daily work as a nurse educator.


Appreciate and acknowledge how accreditation can help you be a better faculty member and a better program. As you become more familiar with the Standards and Criteria, you will recognize how curriculum (Standard 4) flows into outcomes (Standard 6); and soon, you will see how the ACEN’s emphasis on student learning and the end-of-program student learning outcomes can help you be a better and more effective nurse educator.


Use the Standards and Criteria as a framework for orienting new faculty. Don’t wait to introduce new faculty to accreditation and the ACEN Standards and Criteria. Once again, the emphasis on faculty qualifications and development, students and student learning, resources needed for program development and maintenance, the development and delivery of a curriculum designed to help graduates practice in a contemporary environment, and a focus on the achievement of end-of-program student learning outcomes and program outcomes will provide new nurse educators with a framework that will support them throughout their career in nursing education.


Keep it simple, don’t overthink the accreditation process. The Standards and Criteria are simply statements of good educational and academic practice. The Standards and Criteria are designed to help programs achieve and maintain quality…they are indicators of quality as determined by your nurse faculty peers. A program that is in compliance with the Standards and Criteria is not jumping through hoops; they are intentionally doing the “right thing” for their students and the profession!


Consider taking advantage of optional services offered by the ACEN, such a being an Observer on a site visit team or taking advantage of an Advisory Review. These optional services can help you be more familiar with the accreditation process and the activities of the site visit team (Observer); or, they can help you and your faculty develop a deeper understanding of selected Standards within the specific context of your program (Advisory Review).


Share accountability for maintaining accreditation readiness. The nurse administrator is not an island. When the work of accreditation is distributed among the faculty, everyone—including the students—benefits. Sharing accountability helps ensure the program is always ready for a visit, and it can help minimize the chaos that sometimes occurs before an accreditation visit. It also provides a means for faculty to provide service to the program and develop leadership skills!


Develop knowledge about and understanding of the Standards and Criteria. Don’t believe “urban legends” about accreditation—find out for yourself! Many people believe things about accreditation that simply are not true, such as the myth that you have to have a graduating class before you can be accredited (which isn’t true). Study the Standards and Criteria, review ACEN policies, and ask questions! The ACEN is here to be your supportive partner in the accreditation journey.


Nurse administrators should listen to faculty and be open to their ideas, learn to appreciate their creativity, and be willing to take a few risks when faculty suggest new ways of doing things. If we want to prepare our students for a dynamic healthcare environment, we need to be willing to make our nursing education programs more dynamic and move beyond “the way we’ve always done it” mentality. Don’t be afraid to try new approaches and be sure to give them some time to work! Celebrate innovation.


Encourage faculty to become peer evaluators for the ACEN and provide support for them to participate in site visits. Being a peer evaluator is an effective way to increase knowledge of the Standards and Criteria, learn from peers serving with you on the site visit team, and learn from the programs you visit. Dr. Sharon Beasley’s article will provide you more information about how becoming a peer evaluator benefits the program and the individual faculty member.


Send faculty members to an ACEN Self-Study Forum! Self-Study Forums are held 2‒3 times a year in locations across the country. It’s an opportunity for attendees to interact with other nurse educators and the ACEN Directors….all while developing a deeper understanding of the Standards and Criteria. We hope to see you soon!

Living the ACEN Accreditation Process


By Sharon Beasley, PhD, RN, CNE | Director | ACEN
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 4, November 2019

Dr. Suzette Farmer’s Bridges article, Top 10 Ways to Engage Faculty in the Accreditation Process (2019) , provided techniques to engage faculty in the preparation for and maintenance of ACEN accreditation. As a corollary to Dr. Farmer’s article, Living the ACEN Accreditation Process outlines key definitions inherent in the four-step ACEN accreditation process, and the faculty’s opportunities to participate in various steps of the accreditation process. Let’s start with a review of definitions necessary to understand each step of the process.

Definitions and the Four-Step Process

1. The Self-Study Report (SSR) is a written document addressing the program’s self-evaluation regarding its compliance with the ACEN accreditation Standards and Criteria (2017 ACEN Guidelines for the Self-Study Report). The SSR is evidence that is evaluated by peer evaluators in each level of review; therefore, it should be written clearly and accurately.

2. The site visit team is a group of peer evaluators (educators and clinicians who are eligible to volunteer as described in ACEN’s Peer Evaluator Selection Criteria), who are knowledgeable about various program types, appropriate curricula, common practices, and trends in nursing education and practice. The peer evaluators on the site visit team provide an onsite review inclusive of interviews, observations, tours, and a review of exhibits. At the conclusion of the site visit, the peer evaluators complete a Site Visit Report (SVR) documenting their findings and a recommendation for accreditation.

3. The Evaluation Review Panel (ERP) is a group of peer evaluators who are appointed by the ACEN Board of Commissioners (BOC) to conduct its own independent analysis regarding the extent to which the program meets the ACEN Standards. The ERP represents peer evaluators from programs similar to the programs reviewed and clinicians from various geographic regions. At the conclusion of ERP deliberations, these peer evaluators offer their independent recommendation to the BOC based on the program’s SSR and the findings from the peer evaluators on the site visit team.

4. The BOC is responsible for making all accreditation decisions, and the Commissioners are elected by the nurse administrators from ACEN-accredited programs. Additionally, this 17-member Board is responsible for ensuring consistency in the application of the Standards and Criteria among all programs within each cycle. The Board reviews each program’s SSR, the SVR and recommendation, the ERP recommendation, any additional information if applicable, and renders an accreditation decision.

All of these terms are commonly used in the ACEN realm of accreditation. Notably, all of the definitions are steps within the accreditation process. The four steps in the process are the:

  • Submission of the Self-Study Report;
  • Site Visit;
  • Evaluation Review Panel’s recommendation; and
  • Board of Commissioners’ accreditation decision.

The first step in the accreditation process is the perfect opportunity for faculty to become familiar with the ACEN accreditation process from the faculty/program’s perspective. The remaining three steps provide additional opportunities for participation within the ACEN accreditation review process. However, the three remaining steps require faculty to become ACEN peer evaluators – what a wonderful opportunity! Thus, living the ACEN accreditation process relies on the volunteer efforts of peer evaluators.

Why Are Peer Evaluators Needed?

The ACEN is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) to accredit all levels of nursing programs (i.e., clinical doctorate/doctorate in nursing practice specialist certificate, master’s/post-master’s certificate, baccalaureate, associate, diploma, and practical). Therefore, peer evaluators are needed for all program types and three (i.e., site visit, ERP, and BOC) of four levels of review. Eligibility to serve as a peer evaluator requires a minimum of a graduate degree in nursing. However, to serve on a team that reviews a graduate program, peer evaluators serving as a nurse educator must have a master’s degree in nursing and an earned doctorate degree from a regionally accredited college/university. To serve on a team that reviews an undergraduate program, peer evaluators serving as a nurse educator must have a master’s degree in nursing. A nurse clinician must have a minimum of a graduate degree in nursing to review any program type (2019 ACEN Accreditation Manual, Section 1 General Information, pp. 21–22). Further, the process to become a peer evaluator is seamless and includes submission of a letter of interest, a curriculum vitae, and a letter of recommendation. All documents must be submitted through our Nominate a Peer Evaluator portal located on the ACEN website.


Peer review is the core of the ACEN accreditation review process. The ACEN is fortunate to work with nearly 650 volunteer peer evaluators who ensure integrity of the accreditation review process by evaluating programs in three of four levels of the process. During each level of review, peer evaluators provide expertise from their current and past experiences in nursing education and practice. Peer evaluators offer their personal time and expertise to the nursing profession through their rigorous review of nursing programs. Serving as a peer evaluator is personally fulfilling and an altruistic act of serving a community of nursing students, educators, and clinicians. Yet, two of the most practical benefits are a broader and deeper understanding of the ACEN Standards and Criteria and exposure to various practices in nursing education. “…one of the most fulfilling attributes of the peer evaluator role is the opportunity to lend an expert voice to the accreditation review process and ultimately the quality of nursing education” (Beasley, Farmer, Ard, Nunn-Ellison, 2019).

How To Get Faculty Involved


By Wade Forehand, PhD, DNP, RN-BC, CNE | Director and Professor | Troy University School of Nursing
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 4, November 2019

The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) accreditation process intends to enhance quality improvement in nursing education through peer-review process. Achieving accreditation signifies that a school or university has been found to meet or exceed standards and criteria for educational quality. The accreditation process at any level is both a daunting and an arduous task for nurse administrators and faculty alike. Whether you are preparing for initial accreditation, a continuing accreditation review, or simply trying to incorporate the ACEN Standards and Criteria more into your daily practices, it is needed for the program’s betterment and livelihood. The focus of this column is to offer some very casual and practical advice from one nurse administrator to other administrators—or to faculty looking to embrace the accreditation process more confidently.

I would like to begin by sharing a little about my university, the nursing programs that we offer, and myself. Presently, I have the honor of serving as the Director of Nursing for the Troy University School of Nursing (SON) in Troy, Alabama. Troy’s SON offers programs at all levels including ASN, BSN, RN-to-BSN, MSN, Post-MSN Certificates, and the DNP. Our pre-licensure ASN and BSN programs are offered in a traditional face-to-face format on three different campus sites. Our RN-to-BSN, MSN, Post-MSN Certificates, and DNP programs are offered as distance education delivered online. I mention all of this in order to relay the complexity and diversity of the different degree offerings that we have at Troy University—to help you compare it to your own program. In terms of size, Troy University has approximately 17,000 students enrolled either on-campus or online. The SON has approximately 600 students enrolled. In respect to myself, I would say that I am a relatively new nurse administrator. I was appointed to my position two years ago in 2017. My background includes experience in teaching BSN and graduate students at the MSN- and DNP-levels. I have over seven years of experience in nursing education and fourteen years of nursing experience. I am also a Certified Nurse Educator through the National League of Nursing.

When I accepted the nurse administrator role in 2017, the SON was actively preparing for a continuing accreditation visit of our BSN and MSN programs, which was scheduled in for Spring 2019. Needless to say, I felt a great sense of responsibility to ensure that our site visit would go as smoothly as possible. Some of the strategies and activities that we implemented as a SON not only prepared us for the site visit, but also engaged all faculty in the process. Approximately three years ahead of our scheduled visit, we initiated a timeline and series of efforts that would carry our program through the entire continuing accreditation process. We intentionally wanted to build a schedule that would lead to a successful visit. In offering advice to others, I would first highly recommend that you consider strategically when to start preparing for your visit. A three-year preparation process has served our school well over the years. Getting faculty buy-in and support the preparation process was essential.

Faculty must be involved in the preparation and execution of the visit. Faculty and support staff are the cornerstone of a program’s success, and therefore must be instrumental in preparing the Self-Study Report (as required by the ACEN). Most probably know, but the Self-Study Report is a self-evaluation regarding compliance with the ACEN Accreditation Standards. This report in essence tells the story of the nursing program. The way that Troy University sought to engage faculty was to have them active in the planning process from day one. One of the early steps that we took was to create a schedule to ensure that all faculty in both programs being reviewed were able to attend one of the live ACEN Self-Study Forums. These forums, provided by the ACEN Directors, are offered throughout the year in a variety of locations. Forums provide faculty with an opportunity to dive deeper into the current ACEN Standards and Criteria. The forums are in a workshop format, and consist of a day-and-a-half activity where faculty prepare for a site visit. We intentionally started early in arranging for faculty to attend the Self-Study Forums to ensure that all faculty members would have an opportunity to attend and have background knowledge about the preparation for the visit. These Forums, along with the formation of committees and a timeline, helped jumpstart the effort to initiate the process. It was expected that all full-time faculty would play a role in writing the Self-Study Report and gathering documents of evidence concerning accreditation. I found it to be important to establish a culture within the school that both valued faculty input in the process and relayed the importance that each member plays in the success of continued accreditation.

Another point of advice that I would recommend in getting faculty involved is to harness the strengths that individual faculty members may have. It is important to consider what role best fits an individual faculty member. In other words, if someone’s strong suit is writing, then have that person play a role in writing or editing sections of the Self-Study Report. Another faculty member may be efficient and organized at compiling information for evidence. The overall goal is a successful visit. Take into consideration your team, their strengths, and their weaknesses as you put together committees and assignments for the visit preparation. I would also encourage nurse administrators to look at their faculty for expertise with the ACEN. Many programs will find that they have faculty that have served as peer evaluators or have played larger roles within ACEN. Challenge these individuals to be leaders in the preparation effort. Also, encourage faculty to consider becoming peer evaluators. The ACEN review process from the team perspective provides a wealth of knowledge when it comes to contributing to one’s own nursing program. I make it a priority to encourage faculty to be involved with the ACEN. In fact, Troy has many faculty members that are peer evaluators, team chairs, serve on the Evaluation Review Panel, and have held positions on the ACEN Board of Commissioners. Regardless of the role, experience with the ACEN is an invaluable asset for the nursing program.

Lastly, I would offer that the nurse administrator should set the team up for success in preparing for the visit. Make sure that you take into account the work that is involved with the visit. It may be necessary to consider work releases from your typical teaching or faculty duties. Remember a successful visit is the end result, and thus preparing is important. This is just as important as it is to make sure that the day-to-day operations continue. By forming committees and spreading the workload out among the faculty, you help to prevent the burden from falling on any single person. I also encourage nurse administrators to remain active in the overall process. Make sure to attend faculty meetings and committee meetings to talk about efforts and the progress that is being made. Moreover, set firm deadlines for progress and stick to those deadlines to ensure that progress is always being made.

In conclusion, I hope that this friendly advice may be helpful as you or your program engage in a deeper understanding of the accreditation process.

How the Self-Study Forum Prepares Faculty for a Site Visit


By Keri-Nunn Ellison, EdD, MSNEd, RN, CNE | Director | ACEN
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 4, November 2019

Self_Study Forum in Atlanta, March 2019When it comes to preparing for an accreditation site visit, the ACEN provides a number of resources for faculty. Many resources are available on the ACEN website; however, one of the most effective strategies for preparing faculty for a site visit is to attend a Self-Study Forum. The Self-Study Forum is an intensive, day-and-a-half continuing education workshop designed to facilitate understanding of the ACEN Standards and Criteria, give guidance on how to write the Self-Study Report, and prepare the governing organization’s faculty for the onsite visit. The Self-Study Forum also provides an opportunity for attendees to network with other ACEN-accredited program faculty and administrators as well as the ACEN Directors.

The Self-Study Forum is an excellent opportunity to interact directly with both the ACEN Directors and your nurse faculty colleagues to gain a deeper understanding of each Criterion within the ACEN Accreditation Standards. During the Self-Study Forum, the Directors give real-life examples and interactive guidance on how to write the Self-Study Report and prepare for an accreditation site visit. Common challenges and Criteria frequently cited as areas needing development or as in non-compliance are emphasized throughout the Forum.

The purpose of the Self-Study Forum is to help participants develop an understanding of the Standards and Criteria and how they can apply the Criteria to their own programs. The Forum provides detailed information about the 2017 Standards and Criteria and helps attendees learn how to tell more effectively the program’s story of compliance. The presentation style is interactive. Learning exercises for each Standard are included throughout the Forum, including activities designed to increase familiarity with the Criteria, identification of strategies for maintaining compliance, and demonstrating said compliance to peers. A special focus of the Forum is on Standard 6 Outcomes, and participants are asked to bring their own Systematic Plan of Evaluation (SPE) so the ACEN Directors can help attendees to evaluate their plan through comparison to the ACEN Criteria.

Self-Study Forums are beneficial for nurse administrators, faculty, staff of ACEN-accredited programs (or Candidate programs), and anyone considering ACEN accreditation. The Self-Study Forum is recommended for any program preparing for an initial or continuing accreditation site visit, or for programs on Conditions, Warning, or Good Cause. While attendance is beneficial for a program at any stage in the accreditation process, the most benefit can be gained by attending 2–3 years prior to the next scheduled site visit. Self-Study Forums are typically held 2–3 times each year in different locations around the United States. Please click here for the upcoming offerings. We hope to see you at a Self-Study Forum soon!