Would you agree there are few things more disappointing than reading a very good book then being disappointed by the movie version? As a reader, I have a certain expectation about what the movie will be like after I have read the book (or vice versa). When the two do not closely mirror one another I find myself disappointed, disillusioned and sometimes confused about which experience was real. There is a cognitive dissonance that is created when my expectations are not met by my experiences. I have a theory that the accreditation process is much the same experience. I’ll share the short version of that theory here.
The accreditation self-study report is the book you write to tell the story about your school. The visiting team reads the book and visits the campus to “see the movie”. The extent to which those two experiences match is the single most influential factor in how the team reports back to the commission on your behalf. The team reads the self-study report before arriving on campus. When the team arrives they are seeking to validate their interpretation of your self-study report and are concerned with the congruence between your report, their experience of your school, and how you present your school in the trailers (all the written materials that represent your institution–catalog, website, advertisements, etc.).
The consistency between the story you tell in your publications (the trailers), the narrative in the self-study report (the book), and the team’s experience of your school during their visit (the movie) is often the only thing commissioners actually know about your school when they make their final determination to award accreditation because the only information often available to commissioners is what is inclided in the team’s report and your self-study.
If my theory is correct, the primary concern during the self-study itself is ensuring collateral materials presented to the team are current, fairly represent the institution’s current practices, and are reflected in the language and tone of the self-study report. You will also want to ensure that what the team experiences while on campus is what they would expect to find based on the expectations they created from reading the materials you provided. Make sure the movie and the book mirror each other and that the trailers adequately represent both.