Evaluation visits are the second of three steps in the accreditation process, coming after the self-study but before any final actions by the Board of Commissioners (see Part Three of the new Self-Study Handbook). Evaluators are peers who serve without remuneration, typically spending three to four days on campus, as well as devoting many hours before and after the visit to reviewing documents and writing an evaluation committee report. Evaluation committees consist of three to five persons, including an administrator, an academic/educator, and a ministry practitioner (though others may be added as needed, for example, for distance education). An ATS staff person usually accompanies the evaluation committee, acting as a resource for the school and the committee.
Serving on an evaluation committee is often described by participants as "one of the best forms of professional development," not only because of what is learned about how the Standards promote quality education in different contexts but also because of rich and rewarding interactions with peers. For more information about evaluation visits, see sections III.B.1-10 of the Policies and Procedures and Part Three of the new Self-Study Handbook. Other helpful documents and training materials are made available to evaluation committee members through Canvas, the online learning management system the ATS Commission uses for evaluation visitors. The ATS Commission staff provides other training sessions for members of evaluation committees, including various workshops and one-on-one mentoring before, during, and after visits.
*NOTE: The ATS Commission has also developed a new website called Understanding the Standards. It provides many helpful resources for those wanting to become familiar with the new Standards, as well as with the new Policies and Procedures, with tips also for those engaged in self-studies and in evaluation visits.
Public Notice of Evaluation Visits
As part of its responsibilities to the membership and to the public, the Commission on Accrediting publishes prior to each semester a list of schools receiving comprehensive evaluation visits during that semester. The Commission invites third-party comments regarding schools scheduled to receive such visits, which may be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org (see Policies and Procedures III.B.2). In addition to this listing, the school should announce the visit to its constituencies (e.g., via its website, newsletter, or social media) at least 45 days prior to its visit, using language such as the following:
“[Name of school] is hosting a comprehensive evaluation visit for reaffirmation of [or, for initial] accreditation by the ATS Commission on Accrediting on [list dates of visit]. The purpose of this visit is to verify that the school meets all applicable Commission Standards of Accreditation. Comments regarding how well the school meets those standards and/or generally demonstrates educational quality may be sent to the ATS Director of Commission Information Services at least two weeks before the visit. Comments may also or instead be sent in writing to [list official at school, along with contact information]. All comments will be shared with the onsite evaluation committee.”
Due to the current health crisis (see COVID-19 Accreditation Guidelines) and an extension of earlier Coronavirus guidelines issued recently by the US Department of Education, current plans are for all comprehensive visits for spring 2021 to be conducted virtually via Zoom, with a follow-up visit in person when it is reasonable and safe to do so. A final decision on virtual visits will be made by the Board of Commissioners at its February 1 meeting. Schools listed below should consult with their ATS Commission staff liaison if they have any questions (some visits originally scheduled for this spring have been postponed, so they are not listed below):
• Acadia Divinity College
• Augustine Institute
• Briercrest College and Seminary
• Concordia Lutheran Seminary (AB)
• Gateway Seminary
• Grace Mission University Graduate School
• Logos Evangelical Seminary
• Multnomah Biblical Seminary
• NAIITS An Indigenous Learning Community
• Oakwood University School of Religion Graduate Department
• Pentecostal Theological Seminary
• Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
• St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary
• United Lutheran Seminary
• Wesley Seminary