IFSAC Program Accreditation: Why it Matters for Public Safety Programs

By: Dr. Chris Reynolds, Dean, Academic Outreach & Program Development

I am pleased to announce that our emergency and disaster management and fire sciences programs successfully achieved accreditation last week. Along with School of Security and Global Studies Dean Dr. Mark Riccardi and Program Director and Associate Professor Terri Wilkin, I attended the 2017 International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC) last week in Oklahoma City to personally receive the recognition on behalf of APUS. In addition, we also attended site visitor training, which will allow us to serve as accrediting site visit team members for other institutions of higher learning who seek programmatic accreditation.

So, what exactly does program-level accreditation mean? Much like institutional accreditation, it seeks to ensure that a university’s program adheres to a set of nationally-adopted professional standards. Our successful IFSAC program accreditation illustrates the importance of maintaining rigorous academic standards, which place student success first. It is important to note that IFSAC is aligned with, and recognized by, the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as an official accrediting body. In addition to IFSAC, CHEA has among its members over 3,000 accredited college and universities including APUS and 60 other programmatic accrediting institutions.

Like institutional accreditation, program accreditation begins with a self-study, an intense, introspective review of your university’s program. It provides the opportunity to align programs’ current practices against the accrediting body’s “best-practices,” and for the identification of potential deficiencies to be eliminated or corrected before the official site visit. The self-study is a healthy way to assess programs both vertically and horizontally to identify potential pitfalls. Identification and correction of discovered deficiencies ensures the program will be in compliance with the accrediting standards outlined in the self-study guidelines.

At the IFSAC Conference, the Board of Governors discussed the importance of documentation and audit trail of corrections. Site visit team members want to see deficiencies discovered by the self-study and the steps taken to remediate or correct them. Not only does this show the site-team members that corrections have been made, it also shows the institution has the capability across the academic domain to collaborate to solve problems.

The self-study also allows program faculty and staff to work together to identify problems and collaboratively correct them. The intrinsic strength of this type of approach is that it allows faculty and staff to seek solutions, which is inherent to us in higher education. Its extrinsic strength is that it allows faculty and staff to delve into the abstract of their normal duties. Self-study requires research—those unfamiliar with research will gain from the experience – and also requires documenting mundane steps and processes. Those unfamiliar with normal staff functions therefore also gain from the experience. In many respects, accreditation is analogous to visiting one’s doctor for a physical. From an emergency manager or a firefighter’s perspective, such as my own, program accreditation matters to prospective students because it ensures the program in which they are enrolling has received tough peer review that meets or exceeds the rigorous standards set forth by the accrediting agency.

Let me add my personal kudos to Dr. Mark Riccardi, Terri Wilkin and the outstanding faculty of our Emergency and Disaster Management and Fire Sciences programs. Their hard work ultimately resulted in these two programs achieving program accreditation.

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