The benchmark model is a systematic, incremental approach to developing a social work program and writing a comprehensive self-study. There are four benchmarks; the first portion of each benchmark consists of specific accreditation standards the program must be in compliance with and the second portion consists of standards that must be addressed in draft form.
Program development is guided by four visits from COA commissioners. During each visit the commissioner makes a recommendation about the program’s compliance with standards in the first portion of the benchmark and provides consultation on the standards in the second portion.
Programs progress through several stages of program development: applying for candidacy status, completing candidacy, and receiving initial accreditation status. There are several products, forms, and accreditation fees associated with each stage (a current list of fees is
available on the CSWE Web site).
Applying for candidacy status involves completion of the Letter of Institutional Intent and the Candidacy Eligibility Application and payment of the Letter of Intent and Candidacy Eligibility Fee. After the accreditation specialist approves the application materials, the program
completes and submits its Benchmark I document. When the specialist approves the Benchmark I document the program is assigned to a COA agenda (February, June, or October) and arrangements are made for commissioner visit I. The program remains on that agenda as it progresses through the remaining steps.
Completing candidacy involves the completion of the Benchmark II document and its evaluation during commissioner visit II as well as the completion of the Benchmark III document and its evaluation at commissioner visit III. Receipt of initial accreditation involves completion of the Benchmark IV document, assembled to give the appearance of a self-study, which is evaluated
during commissioner visit IV.
Master’s of social work programs are typically designed to be completed by full-time students in 2 years. Master’s programs may elect to develop a part-time only program, designed to be completed by part-time students in up to 4 years. In either case, by the time a program is reviewed by COA for initial accreditation, the self-study will be completed, at least one class graduated, and assessment data collected from program graduates.
Typical 2-year master’s programs and part-time only master’s programs follow the same basic timetable for the completion and review of their benchmark documents. Depending on the number of years students in the part-time only master’s programs require to graduate, one or two follow-up commissioner visits are scheduled after commissioner visit III. The follow-up commissioner visits allow COA to follow one cohort of students as it progresses through the curriculum.
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