Spotlight on AAQEP Cohorts

Spotlight on AAQEP Cohorts

A recent survey of AAQEP members sheds light on cohorts, a popular innovation in the accreditation process of our 2-year-old organization, and offers guidance to staff in reconfiguring cohorts for the coming academic year.

Why Change?

To date, AAQEP cohort rosters have been organized by shared timelines, meaning that each group’s members are planning for a site visit in the same semester or year. While this arrangement has worked well for participants to date, it needs to be reworked to accommodate several factors.

First, cohort placement has been available only to providers whose visits are within the next 3-4 years. Other members whose visit date is farther in the future have expressed interest in participating right away to help them plan ahead and develop a community of peers. 

In addition, some AAQEP members also have asked to shift their cohort assignment to one based on a common factor other than the visit date—such as a shared state, program size, or type. 

Finally, the sheer number of new providers joining AAQEP necessitates adding more cohorts in order to prevent the groups’ size from becoming unwieldy. AAQEP liaisons advise that an ideal cohort size is 10-15 providers (some of which have multiple representatives on cohort calls), and with more than 80 members currently on the roster, that means a minimum of seven or eight cohorts will be needed in the coming year. The question is how to organize them!

What’s a Cohort?

Member cohorts are a central component of the AAQEP accreditation process, offering groups of providers a monthly meeting (video call) with an AAQEP liaison to receive updates, ask questions, share perspectives and examples, and lend mutual support and feedback in a small-group setting. Even outside their monthly calls, providers often touch base with their AAQEP liaison and/or fellow cohort members for support.

Survey Says …

To better understand members’ needs and inform decisions about cohort assignments for the coming academic year, staff distributed an anonymous survey in May to the official primary contact for each member provider. The survey asked about grouping preferences, the ideal frequency of calls, which aspects of cohorts the current participants find most valuable, and what suggestions they have going forward.

About 63% of AAQEP members responded to the survey. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents are current cohort members, and most respondents said they prefer meeting monthly rather than quarterly or every other month. (Note that all cohort calls are optional, and they are recorded for sharing with members for future reference, so members may keep up with the conversations even when they are not able to participate in real time.)

Most Valuable Aspect

Cohort participants overwhelmingly appreciate the opportunity to share and learn with and from each other. One respondent summarized the sentiment as “We are all in it together!” A few other sample responses about the value of cohorts:

  • “The entire experience has been valuable. We have had wonderfully guided discussions where the cohort participants decide on the topics. It is great to hear what other institutions are doing and to put names to institutions. I have had individuals reach out to me on some of the things we have discussed and I have also received suggestions from cohort participants. It is a truly collaborative effort.”
  • “The virtual cohort meetings were the most valuable. Asking questions and having them answered during the meeting allowed everyone to hear the same message. Being able to ‘run things by’ other cohort members was valuable. The support of the AAQEP team was invaluable. Thank you!”
  • “I love that these [calls] are recorded. It is often difficult for me to predict my availability for each meeting. I appreciate having access to the information shared.”

Different Strokes

The survey results also might be viewed as a testament to the importance of choice in our field, showing differences of opinion and contextual priorities.

2019 Cohort Survey pie chart

While a slight majority of respondents prefer a timeline-based grouping, other options also received significant support. Those favoring the current setup offered comments such as these:

  • “Based on my experience in the first cohort, I found the site visit timeline to be far more important than anything else.” 
  • “It’s all about the timeline. Same due date.” 
  • “[A shared timeline] would be beneficial as the AAQEP Guide is revised; it is more likely that shared site visit semester participants will be working from the same guide.”
  • “While region would be very helpful, everyone being at the same point in the would be even more helpful.” 

Some members said they prefer alternatives such as collaborating with other providers in their own state—although one pointed out the nationwide peer group is better because of “less underlying tension about competition.” Other perspectives:

  • “Institutional similarities would be most helpful.” 
  • “Given that we are a small program in a small liberal arts college that only confers undergraduate degrees, we feel the sui generis nature of what we do may only be understood by similar institutions.”
  • “Having programs at different stages in the cycle would be an added bonus as we could all collaborate on those specific aspects of accreditation as well as on collaboration and program improvement.”

Suggestions for Improvement

The survey also sought suggestions for improving cohort work. Many respondents asked for more examples or models to be shared, and others said they would like the AAQEP liaison to take a stronger lead in selecting topics for the calls. (Conversely, a couple of respondents said the opposite—they wish members would play a greater role in determining the topics to be discussed or in leading the calls.)

What’s Next?

After reviewing the survey results and considering the organization’s capacity to operate the cohorts, staff have decided to offer members four options for the 2019-2020 academic year. This month, each AAQEP member provider’s primary contact will receive a new survey to select a preference for cohort assignment based on one of the following four characteristics:

  1. Similar timeline / site visit date
  2. Similar program size (number of completers)
  3. Graduate-only programs
  4. Liberal arts colleges

Members that do not make a selection by August 19 will be assigned to a timeline-based cohort.

The new survey is also soliciting topic suggestions for a new call, dubbed “Brown-Bag Quarterlies,” open to all members. The dates and topics for these calls will be announced later this summer.

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