Virtual Site Visits

In March 2020, the country started its two-week shutdown, uncertain of how the global pandemic was going to unfold. As the long-lasting effects of COVID-19 became clear, CEPH was faced with the difficult decision of how to continue the business of accreditation. A substantial and critical piece of accreditation reviews is the in-person site visit, however, travel restrictions along with local and national public health guidance made it clear that in-person site visits were not an option.

After careful planning, practice runs, flexible site visitors, and willing and ready programs, CEPH conducted its first fully virtual site visit in June 2020. As of March 31, 2021, CEPH conducted 36 virtual site visits, with eight being initial accreditations. The breakdown of virtual visits is as follows:

Virtual Site Visits Completed:

Unit of Accreditation # Visits completed
Standalone Baccalaureate Programs 3
Public Health Programs 23
Schools of Public Health 10

Is the virtual experience the same as the in-person experience? In short, the answer is yes—for the most part. CEPH has begun to collect data from our schools and programs hosting virtual visits, as well as the site visitors who have participated. Schools and programs that have undergone a virtual site visit report high levels of satisfaction with the experience and shared that the visit was seamless from their perspective. They identified some benefits that may have been unforeseen—greater and smoother participation from students and community stakeholders, for example. Additionally, school and program representatives provided feedback such as, “the virtual site visit was great! It really allowed for more student and community participation” and “everything went extremely smooth, and discussions were in depth and comprehensive.” Site visitors also report satisfaction with the virtual site visit experience but look forward to returning to in-person visits when it is safe.

The remaining spring 2021 visits will be conducted virtually. Looking forward to fall, CEPH’s approach will include making timely decisions that allow units and teams to plan while remaining flexible; we will make decisions about site visit format (in-person or virtual) approximately three months prior to each visit. While we do not know what the future of site visits will look like, units can trust that a virtual platform has not and will not compromise the quality of the accreditation review process.

Until we can meet in person again, we are all in this together!

Written by Alisha O'Connell, MPH