ASIS&T White Paper
Accreditation of Programs for the Education of Information Professionals (1)
October 20, 2007
The term information science encompasses the overarching principles, the information and the research that defines the various information disciplines/professions and thus defines the mesh that connects these disciplines with each other. Each information discipline deals with people, information and technology, albeit with different emphases, and each is in the process of defining or redefining itself. Selective strategic alliances across the information disciplines can strengthen our collective position and advance the disciplines and the professions they support. This paper proposes that ASIS&T act as a catalyst for shared activity, specifically for the development of an accreditation program for information professional programs.
Context: The term, information science, encompasses the overarching principles, information, and the research that defines the various information disciplines/professions and thus provides the mesh that connects each of these disciplines/professions to one another. Different programs emerging from different disciplines/professions in the university have approached information science from different perspectives. Numerous definitions of information science have emerged, each having common elements and each reflecting the environment from which it emerged. For example, programs in computer science tend to be technical programs rather than being people centric. Programs in library/information science (LIS) tend to focus on the individual’s information needs and then incorporate technical elements that support those needs.
Management information systems (MIS) related programs in schools of business have business related needs and interests as their focus. Each in its own way deals with people, information, and technology but does so with a different emphasis. As each of these programs has grown and has moved into new territory, each is in the process of defining/re-defining itself. Part of the process is aimed toward an effort by program leaders to clarify the discipline in order to define their role in the academic and professional world. Part of the process is aimed toward an effort by program leaders to lay claim to disciplinary areas/interdisciplinary areas where colonization and appropriation may still be possible. In this rapidly changing landscape, who are our academic allies? Who are our allies in the larger information world? What are the common issues we confront? Because of its wide ranging membership representing the information world at large and because of its reputation as a productive meeting place for diverse views, ASIS&T can serve as a catalyst for this discussion and can serve as an agent of change.
The discussion of definitions and boundaries is evolving. While there are many definitions, few of the Information (I) schools, for example, agree on exactly what they have in common. Indeed, there is often competition among the I schools, some of whom operate from the premise that they have invented a new discipline while others recognize the deep roots of the information professions. Some, in their definitions, cover new areas while others have unknowingly reinvented the wheel. Computer science is talking about taking new directions; what else should/could they be doing, and this “what else” often moves into the domain and definition of information science. Information programs emerging from Schools of Business are also looking at possible new, to them, directions. It is evident that those programs, regardless of their academic origin, that have “seized the day” with new directions and have convinced the university’s administration that they are an important component of the future, have grown and prospered. Conversely, those programs that have conducted “business as usual” have not. A result of this type of growth is that there are numerous information programs, based on a variety of definitions, with a diversity of goals and objectives.
Issue: The information world has expanded exponentially in recent decades. A result of this explosion is the growth in numbers and types of information professionals required to organize, manage, and disseminate information, now such an integral element of our global society. Several developments in academia have occurred in response to this demand:
-traditional programs in LIS have re-envisioned their roles and/or have expanded them to accommodate new content necessary to the preparation of today and tomorrow’s information professionals. This has occurred to a greater or lesser degree in all accredited LIS programs. Several have added course work, specializations, and in numerous instances, new information degree programs whose purpose is to prepare information professionals for the wide range of roles they will need to fill. Others continue to focus on traditional librarianship and the preparation of librarians whose programs are enriched with new course work but whose programs prepare them to be librarians, albeit 21st century librarians.
-new programs in information science, information management, and related areas, separate from LIS programs and information programs in LIS schools/colleges, have become part of the offerings of many academic institutions. They may be found in schools of business, computer science, or perhaps elsewhere in the university. Programs falling in this category may be reviewed by an accrediting agency if they are located in schools/colleges that have an accrediting process, e.g. schools of business. Most likely they are not subject to accreditation except through a state and/or regional accreditation process.
-undergraduate programs in information have been implemented by both the traditional academic programs and new programs.
-the idea of a 5 year program, which combines the four year liberal arts degree and the master’s degree in information and intertwines the courses offered over the five year period, has again been resurrected for discussion.
Each of these present and/or proposed activities enriches the programs offered. However, the undergraduate programs and the 5 year programs do not address the core of the discussion and it is suggested that discussion of them be left to another time and place.
Program Review: In academia, programs, particularly those that prepare individuals for professional positions, are reviewed to determine the extent to which they support the mission, goals, and objectives of the profession to which graduates aspire and the extent to which graduates are prepared to become members of the specific profession. This review can take several forms;
-certification of individuals to determine level of expertise. For several professions, continuing education credits serve as a form of certification; individuals are required to take a certain number of hours of course work to maintain currency in their profession and, by doing so, receive certification by their respective professional association. Other professional groups have developed certification examinations, often in response to employers who wish to have some way of assuring that potential employees have the requisite competencies and that they continue to remain current with their field. While this is an area worthy of further study, it does not deal primarily with academic degree programs within the university and therefore is not specific to this discussion.
-accreditation of LIS programs by the American Library Association (ALA) is an example of program review by a professional association. The process has undergone numerous changes in the many years since it was instituted to evaluate the quality of programs designed to prepare librarians. As LIS programs have grown and expanded to accommodate the many changes in the information professions, the accreditation process has changed as well. Despite numerous discussions about the role and scope of accreditation and despite numerous changes, the purpose of the accreditation process remains essentially the same - to ascertain the quality of programs whose sphere is to prepare librarians. Responsibility for developing, maintaining, and administering the accrediting process continues to be the sole responsibility of ALA. Other models for managing the accreditation process for information programs have, from time to time, been proposed but none have been adopted. (See Appendix A for a brief description of how the ALA accreditation process works. It is an excellent case study for the process).
Problem: The audiences for accreditation have changed as the number of potential stakeholders in the process has grown. When it was first developed, ALA’s accreditation process focused on reviewing the academic programs which prepared librarians. While it expanded its coverage to include aspects of areas that fall within the realm of information science, it has remained the library association’s process by which it exercises quality control over the educational programs intended to prepare librarians. Given that ALA has discussed and is currently discussing at length the appropriate role of LIS education and how it can “more closely marry education and practice in a way that results in a well - grounded, values driven library workforce” (Burger, Leslie,” Changing Library Education,” American Libraries 38:4, April, 2007:5) their discussion may further focus the accreditation process on the MLS. The question then arises “Is ALA the appropriate agency to review for accreditation those programs that do not have a library focus?” It will be important for ASIS&T to stay current with the efforts of the ALA Presidential Task Force and to review carefully the report due at the 2008 ALA Annual Meeting.
How do those programs in LIS schools/colleges not specifically LIS fit into a more library focused environment? They would appear to be in danger of becoming orphans in the ALA world. At the same time, they are part of the larger information education world. And at the same time, more and more information programs are gaining space in many other academic areas. What do these information programs have in common? What does/should an information degree program include and how do different degree programs preparing different types of information professionals differ? What criteria does an academic institution use to develop, administer, and evaluate a non LIS information program? How does the student who wishes to prepare for an information career make informed choices? How does the employer who is looking for particular competencies make informed choices of whom to hire? How do schools/colleges market their different information programs? It is evident that there needs to be a means of assuring stakeholders that programs designed to prepare information professionals, who are not planning to become librarians, do indeed provide the appropriate graduate professional education to meet workplace expectations. (The focus is on the master’s degree.)
Proposal: To develop a new accreditation program for information professional programs, ASIS&T will undertake the following:
- Identify the workforce changes that are driving this new direction. This information will be available from the section of the IMLS study currently underway that focuses on perception and changes in the information workforce. The principal investigators for this study are Jose Marie Griffiths and Don King.
- Consider whether, given the federal govt.’s increasing emphasis on accountability, we are entering a new era in accreditation. This will require discussion with government agencies and others involved in assessment.
- Review the ALA accreditation process to better understand how that model currently works and to determine what we can learn from it.
- As we look at accrediting information programs, not LIS programs, Consider whether coordination with ALA’s process is possible and desirable.
- Review other models for accreditation, e.g. those in the U.K?
- Identify partners in this effort. Potential partners to be considered could include specialty library associations such as the Special Libraries Association, the Medical Library Association, etc.; the Association of Information Managers; the Association of Indexers; the Society of American Archivists; EDUCAUSE; computer science associations; and business associations.
- Consider how will this coordinated effort can assist employers and how they should be involved in the planning.
- Continue to investigate how existing accreditation groups are organized. (See Appendix B for a discussion of current organizational formats and funding models.)
- Evaluate existing accreditation models to determine potential structures. Include consideration of a federated process by which different agencies contribute to defining the process and standards by which different programs would be accredited.
- Address whether the same program should be accredited by more than one agency.
- Consider how the proposed accreditation process will be evaluated.
- Determine those elements to be incorporated into the proposed process.
- Specify how wide a range of information programs the process will encompass.
-Identify the elements that can be used to determine commonalities among information programs.
- Consider whether is it possible to arrive at a definition of a program through statements of the program’s mission, goals and objectives, and/or by identifying certain kinds of faculty, students, curriculum, and length of program. (We need to look at representative information programs to determine which elements can be used to differentiate programs)
- Determine what measures will be used to assess programs.
- Determine the role of outcomes in the accreditation process.
- Identify resources needed to conduct the above studies and implement the accreditation process as well as to carry out the accreditation process once it is in place.
- Identify sources of funding for planning, such as the Council on Library and Information Resources, IMLS….
- Define start up and continuing funding.
- Consider that the process need not be sponsored by an association. It could be a grouping of schools, a consortium of associations who in some way share expenses. A management firm, funded by a group of schools/colleges, working with an accreditation officer is a possibility. (If a grouping of schools were to sponsor the activity, a steering committee representing the various types of information degree programs would be a way of assuring that all interests would be fairly represented.) We will also need to explore the benefits of collaboration with professional associations.
Time line: Consideration of this white paper will begin with the 2007 annual meeting of ASIS&T, at which it will be presented to the membership and to relevant organizational entities, including the Board of Directors. Following the meeting, we propose to identify partners and funding sources for a one year study detailing the issues and a proposed accreditation process. The goal is to establish a new process for accrediting information programs within three years. We seek the collaboration of all associations and organizations across the information professions in this important effort.
How Accreditation Currently Works
Accreditation is a voluntary process, but it may be tied to other processes, e.g. eligibility to sit for the bar, eligibility for federal student loans, eligibility to apply for certain professional positions.
In order to assure that the accrediting agency adheres to a code of good practice, it is generally reviewed by an outside organization; the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA), and/or the Secretary of Education.
There are two types of accreditation; regional accreditation that accredits institutions, and specialized that accredits professional programs. A third type accredits specialized institutions such as seminaries, psychoanalytic institutes, etc. There are also some accrediting agencies that are little better than the equivalent of a diploma mill, and these agencies “accredit” the diploma mills. They often have names that are very similar to better known accrediting agencies. For example, there may be a Northern Central Association which sounds like North Central Association.
The variety of accrediting agencies is enormous and they accredit different things. While some are very small and specific, others are large and encompass residencies, continuing education providers, multiple education levels and various sub-specialties. It is possible, though not common, for more than one agency to accredit in the same field. This is the case in business where there is a “two tier” system in which AACSB is the premier accreditor and a second agency accredits the “second tier.” Each performs accreditation activities responsibly and effectively, but holds the programs to different standards.
The professional body generally sets the standards for accreditation. A committee or commission representing the professional body, often incorporated separately, assures a separation of powers between the commission and the professional body. Similarly, there should be a separation of power between the visiting team of the accrediting agency and the decision making body. A staff person acts as liaison between the commission, the visiting team, and the institution or program. Fees are paid by the program to the commission to support, in part, the accrediting process. These usually take the form of annual dues plus a fee for visits.
An ongoing issue is the tension between the principle of peer review (educators reviewing educators) which is the principle embodied in regional accreditation, and the principle of specialized accreditation (professionals reviewing educators). This issue requires discussion when one examines any new venture.
How Accreditation Bodies are Organized
Accrediting agencies are organized in a number of ways. Some very large organizations such as the major teacher education accreditation organization (NCATE) serve as umbrellas for many smaller, more specialized, review boards. This is especially common when there are many different sub-specialties, and when licensure is involved, as control over content is necessary for students to pass licensing exams. Others, including ALA, have chosen a broad approach in which content is not specified and specialization is a minor part of the educational program being reviewed. An exception, one which may be instructive, is the NCATE/ALA reciprocal agreement in which certain requirements must be met in order for a program to be accredited by both agencies. This latter model may well be worth investigating.
A first step in organizing an accrediting agency is to determine exactly what it is that needs to be accredited (authorized or certified). This requires defining the field and setting standards for educational quality. Public representatives and employers contribute to this activity in order to strengthen society’s stake in the process and to assure that the field is grounded in reality. If there is sufficient evidence to characterize the field as unique and to build a program of study, and further, to certify that those who have completed the program of study are indeed capable of performing specific activities, then there is a role for accreditation. Prospective students seek accredited programs to be assured that their investment in education will indeed prepare them to be eligible for employment, either as a member of a specific profession or as an employee qualified to perform specific tasks.
An additional test of the need for an accrediting agency is to identify potential competitors and/or collaborators. Some fields have more have more than one accreditation agency, e.g. business education. Whether or not multiple agencies accrediting in the same field is currently possible needs to be checked out.
The costs of accreditation are borne by the programs and the sponsoring group(s). It is essential that the accrediting agency has the ability to attract a sufficient number of programs to allow it to have a solid financial footing. In the ALA model, ALA provides financial support to the Office for Accreditation, while attempting to remain distant from the decisions of the Committee on Accreditation. Other accrediting agencies are supported primarily by the member programs themselves thus acknowledging the tradition of peer review.
Regardless of the source of funds, accreditation is expensive, in the range of $250,000 to $500,000, depending on the situation. Costs include salary and benefits for the director, rent, and overhead for an office, travel, insurance, and financial management costs including incorporation costs associated with membership in ASPA or review by CHEA or the Department of Education. Some of these costs can be contributed. Other costs can be minimized by employing a part time director.
 Prepared by Ann Prentice, Diane Barlow, Prudence Dalrymple, Jose Marie Griffiths, Katherine McCain, and Nancy Roderer