2020 End of Year Message from CEA Chair, Susan Carkin
CEA’s engagement with the historical and singular events that characterize 2020 challenged the agency, staff, and board on numerous fronts. We witnessed closures, transformations, innovations, and regrouping among jobs, program modalities, positions, curriculum, teaching, and testing. Overshadowing every aspect of the changed educational environment were health concerns and safe practices. We experienced a wide range of these events within our own CEA microcosm, affecting staff, commissioners, our programs/institutions, and our professional lives and futures. Overall, the Commission got its work done, met the challenges with effective responses, from personnel to policy, and took on some progressive and future-oriented work on behalf of English language programs around the world. We want to acknowledge, with understanding and compassion, that while this year was extraordinarily difficult overall, it was especially challenging for English language programs and professionals across our global educational setting.
All CEA meetings were held on Zoom in 2020: our three annual meetings, several follow-up meetings, all the standing committees, the Executive Committee, a task force, various professional development activities, and weekly meetings between the executive director and chair. It was quite a transition year for CEA’s new executive director, Dr. Heidi Vellenga, who assumed her role on February 1, 2020. One of her first official acts as executive director involved the release of the CEA Statement on COVID-19. Taking into account guidance from the USDE and SEVP, CEA addressed the next immediate need brought on by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic: development of protocols and guidance documents to programs and institutions to support them as many sites transitioned to online and hybrid formats. Heidi also successfully oversaw the office transition to work from home, and quickly reorganized the April Commission meeting format with its professional development activities revised for online engagement using Zoom. New protocols were developed to accommodate the virtual environment and the work took off. As one of the commissioners noted with appreciation for Heidi’s leadership in 2020: No balls were dropped. What follows is a brief summary of the Commission’s work under Heidi’s first year of leadership.
CEA’s work in 2020 was facilitated by a transition plan moving aspects of CEA work from the former executive director, Dr. Mary Reeves, to the current executive director, Dr. Heidi Vellenga. The transition allowed Mary to complete the extensive work on the petition for CEA’s re-recognition as an accrediting agency by the Department of Education. After the petition and supporting documents were submitted, Mary transitioned to an Executive Advisor role and remained on staff throughout 2020. As part of the process, CEA’s assigned USDE staff analyst will conduct formal observations of aspects of CEA’s operations to ensure compliance with the department’s criteria. CEA’s current period of recognition was granted in 2019 through 2022. Results of the petition will involve CEA going before NACIQI (National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity) for a decision on its re-recognition petition in 2022.
Distance Education Approval
I’m pleased to announce that the Commission quickly moved to approve CEA’s expansion of scope of recognition with the USDE to include distance education, and CEA is approved to accredit fully online programs on a permanent basis. Staff has developed a gradual roll-out of this new approval, as described below.
Committee Accomplishments 2020
CEA has several standing committees, one subcommittee, and two ad hoc committees. All met during 2020 to advance the work and values of the Commission. The Executive Committee (Susan Carkin, Connie Lee, Louise Gobron, and Heidi Vellenga, ex officio) met regularly to deal with accreditation and compliance issues, as well as voluntary withdrawals. The EC also set meeting agendas, reviewed recommendations made by other committees, selected a new public member with expertise in online and distance education, provided orientation for new commissioners, and acted on behalf of the full Commission in between meetings.
The Finance Committee, led by Louise Gobron, reviewed CEA financial statements and the IRS Form 990, publicly available, as a requirement of CEA’s non-profit status. The Finance Committee charge requires a review of the CEA Fee Schedule and upcoming year’s draft budget. There are no fee increases in 2021, and CEA’s draft budget, which anticipates lower income from sustaining fees next year, was accepted by the Commission at the December meeting.
The Standards Compliance Committee, led by Ian Collins, met before and during every Commission meeting to review reporting requirements, substantive change reports, and deal with Interim and Annual Reports.
The Nominating Committee, led by Richard McDorman, 2019 CEA chair, solicited applications for the commissioner positions, conducted interviews, and presented a slate for vote by the Constituent Council. The slate of new commissioners was accepted with the most votes in the history of CEA to date. Three new commissioners were ratified by the full Commission in the December meeting and I am pleased to welcome Mark Algren, Nick Ferdinandt, and Jodi Nelms for a three-year term of service from 2021 through 2023.
The Standards Review Committee, led by co-chairs Sheryl Meyer and Stacy Sabraw, began a rigorous 10-year review (the second one in CEA history) of all 44 accreditation standards. The SRC work was extensive: it involved compiling and analyzing survey data, conducting focus groups, and analyzing feedback from accredited programs and institutions, peer reviewers, self-study coordinators, and other individuals who engaged with the standards on a variety of levels. The SRC recommendations for the CEA Standards will move forward into next year’s review in conjunction with CEA strategic planning initiatives. As noted below, CEA has begun work on developing its next strategic plan with completion expected in 2021.
The Reviewer Selection committee reviewed applications and selected qualified reviewers and the Additional Branch committee reviewed four new additional branches, all accredited by the Commission in 2020.
In response to critical issues programs and institutions were experiencing as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission updated the CEA Policies and Procedures by approving three temporary policies in June 2020 to support accredited sites and facilitate accreditation operations. These policies, available to the public on the CEA website, provide for hybrid site visits, extend terms of accreditation, and approve periods of extended hiatus. The Commission also approved other non-substantive language changes throughout the year.
In addition to the standing and ad hoc committees, a task force to examine CEA scope was struck, based on background work done in 2019, and followed by a formal recommendation for action. The 2020 Scope Task Force was convened by the Executive Advisor, Mary Reeves, and included Engin Ayvaz, Alan Broomhead, Jim Hamrick, Rick Lizotte, and Rachel Herman. The task force responded to changes in the field, including program structures, as well as the changing provisions of programs and services and evolving needs of prospective and current students.
Other Commission work this year included our Annual Constituent Council Meeting, held in June. CEA’s annual business meeting has been held virtually since 2017 and allows participation among CEA’s geographically diverse sites. This year, the participants included representation from 130 registered sites with 172 attendees present.
In 2020, the Commission began work on CEA’s next strategic plan, with a formal scope of work and kickoff in November. I’m pleased to pass on the torch to the steering committee in planning for CEA’s future, and would like to thank in advance current and former commissioners, reviewers, staff, external stakeholders and others who will participate in the important initial discovery phase of the process.
My reflections on the Commission work accomplished in 2020 include my appreciation for the steady and inspired leadership that Heidi has demonstrated during an unprecedented set of potentially disruptive circumstances. She led CEA’s work with an effective combination of expertise, networking, finesse, and forward thinking. These attributes are hallmarks of her professionalism, which include her long involvement with the profession and her prior experience as CEA staff. She absolutely sustains CEA’s stellar reputation as a high-functioning learning organization. I am honored to have served CEA with Heidi this year, and have complete confidence in her ability to lead CEA in the best and worst of times.
I extend gratitude to CEA’s Executive Committee and Commission colleagues for their work and flexibility in a year characterized by a range of new and unanticipated circumstances and work. The relationship between the Commission and the executive director was exemplary and supported us all in accomplishing our goals and positioning CEA to move effectively, with our values intact, into the future.
Our collective knowledge and the processes and policies developed to promote CEA Standards have created a positive cycle of input and refinement; the flexibility and success of CEA in addressing this year’s challenges have reconfirmed the organization’s viability. It has been an honor indeed to chair the Commission in the memorable year 2020 and to serve the field in this way.
Susan Carkin, PhD, 2020 CEA Chair
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