December 2020 News from CEA

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.

USDE Petition
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.

Closing Comments
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.

Sincerely,

Susan Carkin, PhD, 2020 CEA Chair

Recent accreditation decisions
The Commission met December 4-6, 2020, virtually, to make accreditation decisions and conduct other CEA business. Accreditation decisions are announced on the CEA website under Recent Decisions within 30 days of each meeting. In addition, below I’ve provided information about other 2020 Commission actions and matters, and some important announcements for 2021.

Please feel free to contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any questions you may have about the announcements, activities, and other Commission actions described below.

2020 CEA activities

Accreditation numbers
This year, the overall number of accredited sites remained consistent at 346, with nearly 50 sites in process, having met the eligibility requirements to pursue accreditation. In 2020, the Commission granted initial accreditation to 21 programs and institutions, and 20 sites either voluntary withdrew from accreditation or let their terms of accreditation expire. Part of the voluntary withdrawal process requires accredited programs and institutions to provide an official letter to CEA, explaining the reasons for the withdrawal and how students will be served/refunded, and it is worth noting that more than half of these withdrawals were not COVID-19-related. In recent years, CEA regularly accepts notifications of voluntary withdrawal consistent with this year’s numbers. For example, in 2018, there were 20 withdrawals, expirations, or closures accepted by the Commission, the same number as in 2020.

The relatively consistent number of closures in 2020 represents a small percentage of the number of accredited programs and institutions. Though we are well aware that the pandemic has impacted the field of international education greatly, and the field of intensive English programs more dramatically, we are encouraged by the fact that many accredited programs and institutions continue to operate.

Throughout 2020, we have been impressed with the speed with which accredited programs were able to transition operations and instruction in a manner consistent with the requirements of the CEA Standards.   We have been so pleased to see such resiliency among accredited programs and institutions. As required, we received regular reports and notifications about adaptations to aspects of operations, including remote work and online instruction.

CEA’s focus throughout this year has been on supporting accredited sites throughout this difficult year, and in addition to the implementation of the Section 23 Temporary Policies approved by the Commission in June, staff has regularly granted extensions to deadlines for responses to reporting requirements, payment deadlines and continues to promptly respond to inquiries on a variety of standards-related matters. Of the 346 sites accredited by CEA, approximately 10% have been granted extensions of up to one year to manage the reaccreditation application and site visit process, and 5% have been granted a continuance of eligibility throughout a period of extended hiatus, with several returning to in-person or online instruction at some point during 2020.

Virtual accreditation activities
As indicated in earlier issues of News from CEA, staff primarily worked from home this year. During Summer 2020, CEA began conducting site visits and workshops virtually. Of the 33 site visits that took place in 2020, 23 of them were conducted as hybrid site visits, consisting of an initial virtual review to be followed by an in-person visit in the future. Special thanks to the volunteer peer reviewer pool and CEA Site Visit Representatives who enthusiastically and professionally transitioned to conducting the review in this new format, and Melissa Van De Wege, CEA’s Accreditation Review Manager, who organized the transition and training for carrying out hybrid site visits, including developing a hybrid site visit preparation webinar. Based on initial results, virtual reviews been successful, and though it is CEA’s hope that virtual reviews are a temporary endeavor, records of results and feedback from all involved stakeholders will be taken into account for future consideration. The Accreditation Workshop, a mandatory requirement for sites pursuing initial or reaccreditation, transitioned to being delivered online over 4 days, with one workshop in July and one in October, serving more than 54 attendees representing 38 sites, including 10 sites pursuing initial accreditation.

The number of Interim Reports submitted to CEA continues to increase as the agency continues to mature. Following the recommendations set forth in 2017 by the Interim Report Task Force, phases 3 and 4 of the Interim Report Review pilot were carried out this year, with two virtual seminars held to incorporate peer review input in the review process. Kudos to the 22 volunteer reviewers who participated, 10 of whom participated in both review sessions and to Masha Vassilieva, Director of Compliance, and Emily Vandermade, Accreditation Coordinator for managing the virtual review of Interim Reports. CEA now accepts Interim Reports at two submission dates each year to accommodate the increasing number of reports due each year. Interim Reports are due in the 5th year of a 10-year term of accreditation and the CEA primary contact is sent information about the Interim Report template and requirements one year before the submission deadline.

Strategic Planning
As noted above, CEA began work on its next strategic plan in 2020. Following an initial discovery phase, which will involve input from various CEA and external stakeholders including a survey of the Constituent Council, the Commission will develop CEA’s next strategic plan for 2021. In the meantime, CEA’s Current 2016-2020 Strategic Plan continues in place.

2021 COVID-19 Adaptations
The provisions and requirements set forth in the CEA Statement on COVID-19 remain in place until further notice. Based on recent guidance from federal agencies, temporary flexibilities for recognized accreditors remain in place until “the last date that the national emergency is in effect.” A higher ed press article stated that the March SEVP guidance remains in place for Spring 2021, as confirmed by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. CEA-accredited sites certified by SEVP are required to forward copies of updates sent to SEVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Another mandatory survey about instructional delivery plans in early 2021 will be distributed to all accredited programs and institutions in early January. A summary of the results of the CEA 2020 Fall COVID-19 Compliance Survey will be distributed to the Constituent Council along with the 2021 survey request.

2021 Annual Reporting
All accredited sites must file an annual report each year of accredited status. Annual Report instructions and access information for 2021 submissions will be distributed in early January 2021, with a due date of February 15, 2021. CEA’s Accreditation Process and Technology Manager, Rachel Herman, has led a project to move the Annual Report Package into a fully online submission. An informational webinar is planned for January 6, 2021 at 12:00 p.m. Eastern time. Programs or institutions anticipating difficulties in filing annual reports are encouraged to contact staff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Distance Education
CEA has long contemplated adding distance education to its scope of recognition with the USDE. CEA has expanded its scope at various junctures throughout its history, adding accreditation of international sites, foreign language programs, youth programs, and teacher training programs, only after careful study and preparation. Many self-study coordinators, reviewers, and others may have already noticed references to distance education throughout the CEA Standards, the results of a Commission study group which, at that time, opted not to develop separate standards for online or distance education delivery when exploring this issue over the past 20 years.

Since that time, CEA has accredited a portion of a program offered online when accredited programs or language institutions file appropriate substantive change reports. Expansion of scope to include fully online programs will be rolled out in stages throughout 2021. Currently, programs and language institutions interested in permanently offering an online program can file a report following the usual substantive change reporting process. Keep in mind that when a change is under consideration, CEA staff should be consulted to determine whether it is a substantive or minor change and whether a substantive change report must be filed, and to assess how the change will affect the program or institution in terms of meeting the CEA Standards.

Stage 1 of the distance education expansion of scope will begin in February 2021, for programs and language institutions interested in permanently accrediting online programs. During Stage 1, only existing programs will be reviewed for virtual delivery. Similar to the supplemental templates required for foreign language, youth, and teacher training certificate courses and programs, a supplemental template will be required and incorporate existing CEA Standards. More information about the review process and report submission process, and description of additional phases of the expansion of scope will be provided to the CEA primary contact on file.

2021 Officers
CEA’s officers are elected from among current Commission members. The Commission has elected Ian Collins as 2021 chair-elect (and to subsequently serve as 2022 chair), and Paul Primak as 2021 treasurer. They will join Connie Lee, CEA’s 2021 chair, and Heidi Vellenga, CEA’s executive director who serves as secretary (ex-officio), to comprise CEA’s 2021 Executive Committee.

New Commissioners for 2021
As noted above, CEA welcomes four commissioners to serve 2021-2023 terms: Mark Algren, Nick Ferdinandt, Jodi Nelms and Odin Jurkowski (public member). Elected commissioners are identified by the CEA Nominating Committee, which is charged with ensuring that the Commission profile maintains a balance of domains of expertise, types of experiences, and range of perspectives, as well as a mix of administrators and academics/educators/practitioners, from year to year. The Nominating Committee conducts a detailed process of soliciting applications, interviewing candidates and references, and determining the slate each year, which the Constituent Council then votes on in October each year. This year, appointment of a new public member with expertise in online and distance education took place. The 2021 Call for Nominations for commissioner applicants to serve from 2022 through 2024 will be published March 1, 2021.

2021 Annual Constituent Council Meeting
CEA holds an annual business meeting in keeping with its status as a Virginia corporation. The meeting, which is delivered virtually, will be held on Friday, June 11, 2021. Members of the Constituent Council, comprised of CEA’s accredited sites, will receive formal notice of meeting matters 60 days prior, along with specific instructions for joining the virtual meeting.

Logo Reminder
I’d be remiss if I did not take the opportunity to remind you to update your materials and website using the registered mark “Accredited by” logo for CEA if you perform an annual update around this time of year. The logo guidelines sent to the primary contact on file earlier this year with a requirement to make updates by October 1, 2020. Logo guidelines and copies of the new logo were sent along with each accreditation decision letter. Note that accredited sites should not use the “Leading by Advancing Standards” logo, which is reserved for use by the Commission or staff. In 2021, staff will verify proper use of the logo on websites of accredited programs and language institutions. If you have questions or need a copy of the logo, please contact staff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In closing, I’d like to extend CEA’s best wishes for the new year, perhaps the most anticipated year of our collective careers.