William & Mary Assistant Provost for Institutional Accreditation & Effectiveness Matthew J. Smith didn’t need long to familiarize himself with his surroundings when he started work at the university in December. He already had a deep appreciation for the university from his time as Richard Bland College’s faculty representative to W&M’s Board of Visitors from 2017 to 2019.
“This is a place where I always felt at home,” said Smith, the successor to the recently retired Susan Bosworth. “I just love it here.”
Smith came to William & Mary from George Mason University, where he spent the previous three-and-a-half years as director of accreditation. W&M News recently spoke to him about the duties of his position, as well as the responsibilities of the Office of Institutional Accreditation & Effectiveness. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What drew you to William & Mary?
A: I absolutely loved coming to this campus every time I was here for Board of Visitors meetings. I always found the people in the William & Mary community to be engaging, interesting and dedicated to the students. I have known Susan Bosworth, the retiring associate provost for institutional accreditation and effectiveness, for several years, and she mentioned to me that she was retiring. I knew that I had to apply for the job. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, coming back to William & Mary.
Q: Describe your role and the responsibilities of the university’s Office of Institutional Accreditation & Effectiveness (IAE)?
A: Our office leads the institution’s compliance with the requirements of our accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, or SACSCOC. Those requirements include a reaffirmation process of our accreditation, which occurs every 10 years, to demonstrate that the university complies with the 72 standards of SACSCOC’s Principles of Accreditation.
Those Principles run the gamut of everything at the university, including administration and faculty responsibilities and qualifications, shared governance, educational programs, student resources, financial resources and physical facilities, among others. It really is comprehensive, so in this office we have a responsibility to pay attention to all of these things and to connect with the appropriate people across the institution, identifying where improvement or change might be needed. SACSCOC really is all about continuous improvement.
In addition to dealing with our accreditor, our office coordinates institutional assessment efforts, working with the schools and the faculty of Arts & Sciences on assessments of academic programs. We also work closely with folks across the university on assessments of the COLL curriculum, academic and student support services and administrative support units.
The office also works directly with the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV). We monitor institutional change across the university, working in a co-leadership position with new Vice Provost for Academic Affairs David A. Yalof to lead the university’s Institutional Change team. With new programs, for example, we work directly with faculty and administration through the design and approval processes to ensure that the programs meet the requirements of SCHEV and SACSCOC.
Q: When is the next reaffirmation of accreditation for William & Mary?
A: In December of 2026, the Board of Trustees of SACSCOC will vote on William & Mary’s reaffirmation of accreditation. There’s a lot that must be done up to that point. The first step is a self-study to document our compliance with those 72 SACSCOC standards. Our self-study report is due in mid-2025. We will start by focusing on tightening things up, where needed, to demonstrate and document our compliance. SACSCOC’s mission relates to ensuring institutional compliance in the context of continuous improvement. This is rather important, as it ensures that that we’re continuing to be responsive to the demands of the federal government, the demands of the world and paying attention to best practices.
Q: In what ways has the accreditation process evolved to maximize student success?
A: In the last two decades, there has been a huge push to pay closer attention to assessment of student learning outcomes and transparent reporting of student achievement. Moreover, aligning with SACSCOC’s focus on continuous improvement and effectiveness, universities are now required to address diversity, equity and inclusion in the context of student achievement and in its strategic planning.
It’s important that our institutional processes and commitment to effectiveness and improvement are ongoing. It must be something that we’re always paying attention to. Sometimes we may have to pay more attention than others, but this is something that will continue to keep William & Mary at the pinnacle of excellence and among the best institutions in the nation.
Nathan Warters, Communications Specialist