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Accreditation ABCs

Measures of Quality: "Outcomes" and "Inputs", as Found in Standards and Guidelines

There was a time in American education, perhaps 50 or more years ago, when the only standard measure of an educational program's quality was a list of a program's characteristics: the ratio of students to faculty members, the size of laboratories, the contents of libraries, and such.

That viewpoint began to change throughout the arena of accreditation, in the 1960s.

In today's language, these kinds of "what we've got" characteristics are referred to as "inputs."

The conventional wisdom behind the practice of judging quality based on inputs was, of course, two-fold:

Inputs were easy to observe or measure or count.
Inputs were believed to be highly correlated with educational success.

It has taken decades of experience and debate for a sea-change to occur in accreditation: attention to inputs has radically decreased while attention to educational outcomes has greatly increased!

In the contemporary view ("The Outcomes Approach" as you will hear people say) -- adopted by CAAHEP more than a decade ago -- educational success is the most important measure of an educational program.
In operation, CAAHEP-accredited educational programs are judged primarily on outcomes.

Most CAAHEP Standards are expressed in terms of outcomes -- as exemplified by such things as Certification and licensure test results, employment rates, employer satisfaction, and success by graduates when they start to practice their profession.

These kinds of “output” data -- which are quite different from “inputs” such as student/faculty ratios or the content of library shelves -- are the measures that Committees on Accreditation (CoAs) need you to gather, think about, analyze and report.

Inputs, often, are the content of Guidelines. Inputs still are regarded by educators as linked -- if not always highly correlated -- to educational success. Inputs are what you use to achieve outcomes.

You will need to think about inputs; you may have to discuss the adequacy of your inputs if outcomes fall short; but your program will be analyzed by you and judged by your CoA on standards about its outcomes.