Is Attending the ACEN Nursing Education Accreditation Conference Worth It?
Written by: Trilla A. Mays, EdD, MSN, RN
Dean of the School of Health Sciences
Published: May 2022
If you are an administrator, you might ask yourself, is it worth the cost to send faculty to the Nursing Education Accreditation Conference? If you are a nursing faculty member, you might ask, is it worth my time to attend the accreditation conference? The answer to both is a resounding yes!
I have attended the ACEN Self-Study Forum and the accreditation conference as a nursing faculty member and later as an administrator. You may ask yourself, why the conference? Isn’t it the same as the Self-Study Forum? There are several differences. Ideally, it would be great if every faculty member and every administrator could attend at least one Self-Study Forum every few years and the accreditation conference yearly. I realize that is not feasible. At minimum, one seasoned and one new faculty member should attend the accreditation conference. As an administrator, I make every effort to send two faculty each year to the accreditation conference. Some of my faculty have also attended a Self-Study Forum.
There are several reasons the accreditation conference is beneficial to faculty and administrators. As an administrator, I can tell faculty that the ACEN requires the systematic plan of evaluation (SPE) to be faculty-driven. I remember as a new instructor thinking the administrator just wants me to do her job, which is not the case at all. As faculty, you are responsible for teaching the next generation of nurses; you want the nursing students to be successful, to graduate, and to pass the NCLEX exam so they can become a nurse. How do you know if what you are teaching is preparing them for nursing practice?
After attending the first accreditation conference (yes, it was the first one the ACEN held in 2018!), I realized there is so much more to the SPE than just putting down on paper what the program is doing. It is the roadmap and guide to the entire program. It is really the faculty, not the administrators, who are there day-to-day with the students as the administrator oversees the process to make sure it runs smoothly.
I still remember one of the sessions where two faculty from a nursing program discussed how they were able to come up with assessments to demonstrate that students were meeting their end-of-program student outcomes (SLOs). Who better to come up with measures to assess outcomes than the faculty who are teaching? As an administrator, I encourage faculty to attend the accreditation conference to see how other programs’ faculty are contributing to their programs’ SPEs. It is not just attending the sessions that is helpful; it is also the networking that occurs before and after the sessions. I have brought back great ideas just from talking to faculty and administrators from other nursing programs. I would like to think I also shared ideas with them that they found helpful.
I have been through one accreditation visit as a faculty member and two visits as an administrator. I continue to learn, to gain insight, and to get ideas from the fantastic presenters at the conference. The knowledge I have gained (along with the knowledge several of my faculty have gained from attending the accreditation conference) has assisted us in updating our end-of-program SLOs and revising the assessment methods that align with the end-of-program SLOs. If faculty were not aware of or did not understand the process, it would have been difficult to come in as a new administrator and make the needed changes. Unfortunately, what had been done by prior administration needed revising. Faculty felt defeated after their last site visit. Once a couple of our faculty attended the accreditation conference and discussed what they learned with our entire team, faculty agreed on what needed to be done. The faculty are wonderful instructors that work intensely to prepare the nursing students. It wasn’t them; it was the process (assessments, end-of-program SLOs, and the SPE) that needed to be improved. I met with faculty every two weeks for several months. Thankfully, four of the faculty had attended the accreditation conference: two the previous year and two that year. Together, we were able to come up with new end-of-program SLOs, assessment methods for each outcome, and update the SPE to reflect the data and what changed as a result of the data.
If you are new to the ACEN accreditation process, I cannot stress enough how valuable it is for an administrator to send at least two (or more if you are able!) to the accreditation conference. Even if your program has been accredited for many years, there is always something to learn. As I said earlier, I attended the very first accreditation conference as a nursing faculty member. Last year, I attended the accreditation conference as an administrator. Faculty or administrator, new or not so new to the ACEN, it is worth your time and money to attend the Nursing Education Accreditation Conference.
Trilla A. Mays, EdD, MSN, RN
Dean of the School of Health Sciences