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Introducing the AQIP Categories

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 10 months ago

Introduction to the AQIP Categories


The AQIP Categories provide a tool to help any higher education institution examine, analyze, and evaluate the key systems it uses to do its work and achieve its outcomes. AQIP uses the word quality to refer to the never-ending improvement of these systems, individually and collectively, in support of an institution’s unique mission. Looking at these systems provides opportunities to ask penetrating questions about critical processes, their interrelationships, and their combined effectiveness in producing the performance levels the institution seeks. The AQIP Categories focus on nine systems common to all higher education institutions, posing a series of questions about each that together ask:


  • Are we doing the right things to achieve our mission and goals?
  • Are we doing these things as well as we could?


This focus on systems — on processes, their performance results, and how an institution systematically strives to enhance both its processes and results — constitutes AQIP’s method for assuring quality and stimulating organizational improvement. By developing and using performance metrics, an institution ensures that it uses its resources effectively, demonstrating its accountability to those who fund and support it. When gaps exist between present results and possible or desirable performance, new strategies for improvement come primarily through understanding those existing systems and processes that produced the current results. Used in this way, the Categories allow AQIP to make accrediting judgments that meet the Higher Learning Commission’s quality assurance standards while simultaneously stimulating and helping participating colleges and universities improve the quality and effectiveness of what they do.


The Categories provide critical, constructive, and collaborative questions


In its Categories, AQIP uses you and we (rather than the stiffly formal the institution and the Higher Learning Commission) to advance the welcoming, friendly tone that models and reinforces the relationship AQIP seeks to establish with institutions. Sharing its institutions’ goals, AQIP wants participating colleges and universities to thrive and be vital: we and you both want your students to experience educational programs that will make their lives fulfilling and successful, and your faculty and staff to have satisfying, productive, and secure jobs. AQIP pushes and supports your institution to succeed in achieving your goals, and we share your pride when you are successful


Moreover, AQIP stresses that higher education institutions are the ongoing creation of the administrators, faculty, and staff that operate them — that you, the employees, individually and collectively, hold responsibility for continuing or changing your operations. If how you are operating now is working well, producing the results you want, then continuing to do things the same way makes sense. But if your current processes are not producing the performance you want — the number and quality of applicants you wish, the faculty and staff you need, the salary levels you want, the student achievement levels that would make you proud — th

en you must decide to change processes and performance, and you must make the changes happen. The AQIP Categories provide a set of “How-do-you..?” questions your institution can ask itself, as a whole or at the level of specific academic units, divisions, departments, programs, or offices. Systems thinking makes it essential for institutions to cascade these questions, posing them at every level, The questions in the AQIP Categories provide tools for systematic and penetrating self-study, and the Systems Portfolio provides an effective tool for communicating the discoveries and insights that emerge.


The nine AQIP Categories comprehensively examine any higher education institution’s key systems


The figure above shows how the nine AQIP Categories together cover the key systems essential to any effective college or university. (The number AQIP uses for each Category appears after it in the figure.)

At the left of the figure, Understanding Students' and Other Stakeholders' Needs (Category 3) represents this system an institution uses to determine the needs, requirements, expectations, and preferences of its students and stakeholders. AQIP insists that a higher education institution be clear and direct about what it is trying to accomplish and for whom it is doing the things on which it expends its energies and resources. To do this effectively, every institution needs trustworthy processes than can accurately analyze the shifting needs of its prospective students and stakeholders. Deciding which of these stakeholder needs it chooses to serve delineates a college or university’s unique mission and vision. In turn, this understanding of mission drives everything else — the design and operation of the other systems and processes an institution establishes to achieve its goals. This leftmost block in the figure represents the information inputs that allow a higher education institution to define and articulate its mission, and to decide what resources and systems it must assemble to achieve that mission.


On the figure’s right, Helping Students Learn (Category 1) highlights the core processes for credit and non-credit instructional design and delivery that contribute directly to student learning, a primary purpose any educational institution. Accomplishing Other Distinctive Objectives (Category 2) provides for diversity in the character of higher education institutions that pursue additional critical goals (such as research, development of endowment funds, competitive athletics, or service to specific communities), spotlighting the key processes that an institution might operate to achieve these goals and thereby serve its stakeholders. Together, these two Categories examine the key processes that an institution employs to create value directly for its students and its other external stakeholders — the places an institution touches and affects people’s lives. The rightmost block in the figure therefore represents the outputs that a college or university produces for its students and other stakeholders.

The figure’s center block shows the internal systems that every institution builds and operates to sustain those processes that directly touch the people it serves. These internal systems make it possible for an institution to provide direct services that respond to whatever it understands to be its stakeholders’ needs. Valuing People (Category 4), Leading and Communicating (Category 5), Supporting Institutional Operations (Category 6), Planning Continuous Improvement (Category 8), and Building Collaborative Relationships (Category 9) designate these major systems — which include specific processes like payroll, maintenance, personnel, planning, partnering, and many others. These systems are enablers, making the delivery of educational and other services possible, and are often themselves invisible to students and stakeholders. These five Categories do not merely review independently operating departments, offices, and divisions, but seek to understand a set of critical systems that an institution must link and align to maximize its ability to provide its students and stakeholders with the services they need.


Measuring Effectiveness (Category 7) examines a contemporary higher education institution’s “knowledge management” system, the set of processes it uses for effectively collecting, storing, retrieving, and interpreting the information it needs to operate and improve. These processes are essential to maintain, track, and regulate the other eight organizational systems. While each of the nine AQIP Categories stresses the need to measure accurately the current performance of key processes, Category 7 provides the whole institution with the opportunity to ask itself whether it is collecting all the information it needs, storing it securely and accurately, and giving access to it to the right people when they need it most. It provides for an audit of the system by which colleges and universities accumulate and distribute the knowledge they need to thrive.


Interpreting and answering the questions in the AQIP Categories is challenging, and many questions will arise as an institution attempts to use them. AQIP maintains this collaborative website to explain in more detail what each question means, and to collect advice and strategies from institutions on how they have successfully used the Categories.

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