Introduction to AQIP

Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) is a pathway through which an organization can maintain its accredited status with the Higher Learning Commission. AQIP’s goal is to infuse the principles and benefits of continuous improvement into the culture of colleges and universities in order to assure and advance the quality of higher education.

Based upon principles common to high performance organizations, AQIP draws from a variety of initiatives and programs – Total Quality Management (TQM), Continuous Improvement (CI), Six Sigma, ISO 9000 registration, state and national quality awards, and others. Many of AQIP’s quality principles have long been traditions in higher education, although their form and the breadth of their practice in particular institutions vary greatly. Other components such as systems thinking and stakeholder focus appear at first to be new to academia, but turn out to be in close alignment with the values and behaviors of higher education.

AQIP’s Criteria for Accreditation reflect a set of guiding values that underlie all of AQIP’s elements, activities, and procedures. They represent the values that participating colleges, universities, and AQIP itself strive to embody.

  • Focus on student learning that encompasses every aspect of the student experience at an institution
  • Education as a public purpose that strives to fulfill community obligations
  • Education for a diverse, technological, and globally connected world that recognizes contemporary circumstances
  • A culture of continuous quality improvement with a commitment to assessment and innovation
  • Evidence-based institutional learning and self-presentation to support decision making
  • Integrity, transparency, and ethical behavior and practice
  • Governance for the well-being of the institution with a focus on quality faculty, curriculum, expectations of students, and adequate resources
  • Planning and management of resources to ensure institutional sustainability
  • Mission-centered evaluation that supports and shapes the diversity of the institution
  • Accreditation through peer review that is collegial, maintains high standards, and assures and advances institutional quality

AQIP puts forward six Categories to help analyze and improve the systems essential to all effective colleges and universities. The name of each AQIP Category refers to a group of related processes. For example, “Helping Students Learn” includes the largest group of critical processes in higher education institutions, processes dealing with program and curricular design and delivery. Each Category allows an organization to analyze, understand, and explore opportunities for improving these processes. Each question analyzes the processes, results, and improvements for each focus. Metaphorically, these Categories serve as “buckets” that allow institutions to sort their key institutional processes into analyzable groups, and as “lenses” that permit in-depth examination of each group of processes. Each Category identifies specific issues (in the form of questions) that guide the institution in structuring is Systems Portfolio and in crafting Action Projects.

  • Category 1: Helping Students Learn
  • Category 2: Meeting Student and Other Key Stakeholder Needs
  • Category 3: Valuing Employees
  • Category 4: Planning and Leading
  • Category 5: Knowledge Management and Resource Stewardship
  • Category 6: Quality Overview


Strategy Forum (attendance required every 3 years)

The Strategy Forum is a supportive, facilitated peer review process to help an organization select, critically examine, and commit to a set of Strategies and Action Projects that will drive quality improvement. The Strategy Forum helps the organization address the AQIP Categories that are most vital at that time.

Action Projects

Action Projects strengthen an organization’s commitment to continuous improvement; educate and motivate faculty, staff, and administrators; and improve systems and processes that lead to success in achieving organizational goals. At least one Action Project relates directly to Category 1: Helping Students Learn. We are required to keep three Action Projects current at all times.

Systems Portfolio and Systems Appraisal (Portfolio is submitted every 4 years)

Every four years an organization assembles a Systems Portfolio with broad faculty and staff involvement. The Systems Portfolio consists of an Institutional Overview and explicates each of the major systems employed to accomplish an organization’s mission and objectives. The organization answers specific questions for each of the six AQIP Categories. For each system, the questions deal with context for processes, results, analysis, and improvement. The Institutional Overview presents a capsule picture that helps readers understand the organization’s key strengths and ambitions, as well as the challenges and conflicts it faces.

Following standardized evaluation procedures, the Systems Appraisal Team produces a consensus Systems Appraisal Feedback Report for the institution. This report assesses each of the six Categories for Systems Maturity and for evidence the institution meets the Criteria for Accreditation, identifying strengths and opportunities for improvement. In addition, the Systems Appraisal provides an executive summary that may serve as a concise report of the organization’s progress in its quality journey.

Review of Federal Compliance Documentation (required to submit every 7 years)

This documentation is reviewed prior to the Comprehensive Quality Review visit. This helps the Comprehensive Quality Review Team determine an institution’s compliance or the need for further review during the Comprehensive Quality Review visit in year eight.

Comprehensive Quality Review (CQR) and Reaffirmation of Accreditation

During the eight-year cycle leading up to Reaffirmation of Accreditation, AQIP requires one to two site visits to each institution. The CQR Team produces a written report summarizing it findings, identifying those areas the team has verified and/or clarified, and addressing the institution’s compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation, noting any areas that require additional clarification before Reaffirmation of Accreditation by the Institutional Actions Council (IAC).

The Comprehensive Quality Review occurs every four or eight years with Reaffirmation of Accreditation occurring every eight years.