Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Jamie Nunnelly
Many membership-based associations promote best practices in their field, yet find it difficult to balance promotion of their work while also emphasizing the quality of their programs.
The National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP) in its mission to ensure college courses offered by high school teachers are as rigorous as courses on college campuses has had to find a balance between promotion and quality. One of the concerns of the founders of the NACEP, was the quality of the programs created during a period of rapid expansion in the market. Thus NACEP created a set of national standards and peer-review accreditation process; in addition to the typical services offered by professional organizations of networking, information exchange, and shared research and advocacy. This emphasis on quality provides an avenue to engage busy professionals as volunteers through participation in peer review and conducting professional development activities.
In 1999, NACEP began like many nonprofit organizations, as an all-volunteer organization. Despite the challenges of running a virtual organization with volunteers across the country, within its first decade, the founders had success in achieving their initial goals. By 2009, the organization had a growing membership, adopted quality standards and accredited 33 programs, and hosted 11 national conferences – with numbers of attendees rising to about 280. A new generation of leaders running the organization realized the need to invest in the organization’s growth and operations. They engaged in a strategic planning process and hired their first staff. Today, the organization has grown to four full-time staff, with an office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Over three cycles of strategic planning, the Board of Directors refined and focused the organization’s mission to a succinct phrase that drives all its work: advancing quality college courses for high school students. As with other mission-driven nonprofits, NACEP cooperates with its members and external governmental and nongovernmental partners in fulfilling its mission. The American higher education system is premised on a belief that institutions have primary responsibility for academic quality – generally speaking federal and state governments do not write or approve curricula, examine the credentials of faculty, or review the performance of students. Thus third-party, peer-review accreditation carried out by private, nonprofit organizations – like NACEP – are the primary means for monitoring the quality of colleges, universities and programs. Each year, NACEP trains dozens of volunteer peer reviewers from the 105 institutions with NACEP-accredited concurrent enrollment partnerships to evaluate the portfolio of evidence provided by a program seeking accreditation. These individuals give back to their profession through their peer review service.
Membership has grown to over 500 post-secondary and secondary institutions, school districts, state agencies, and partner organizations. The national conferences regularly attract over 800 attendees, with hundreds of other attendees at more than a dozen state and regional professional development events each year. Technology has enabled the organization to share information throughout the year – NACEP hosted over 30 webinars last year. Despite the growth of staff, volunteers still provide much of the professional development.
NACEP’s direct impact on individual colleges and universities is most evident at the 105 accredited programs, which have committed significant resources, particularly campus faculty time and effort, to upholding national standards of quality. Beyond those individual colleges, NACEP’s standards of excellence serve as a model for statewide quality standards in 17 states and are endorsed by professional associations in English, Composition, and History. They have learned the need to adapt organizational structures to changing needs. In recent years, NACEP established an Accreditation Commission distinct from membership functions and has developed 10 state and regional chapters to expand its impact locally.
Through its leadership in policy development, NACEP was instrumental in getting dual and concurrent enrollment programs recognized as a critical strategy in the recent federal K-12 education law reauthorization (the Every Student Succeeds Act) as well as in the Higher Education Act.
Nonprofit organizations must adapt to the changing environment in their field while remaining true to their mission. NACEP’s mission has broadened as the organization has matured, but continues to be consistent with the ideals of the founders. The early emphasis on promoting quality practices among its member programs is reflected in the accreditation the organization provides – still its core service. The Board of Directors recently released a new strategic plan for the next three years, articulating a vision of a future where all high school students are prepared for, have access to, and succeed in quality college courses.
Jamie Nunnelly is the communications director for the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships. She has worked for over three decades in marketing communications for Fortune 500 companies such as General Motors and Tropicana Products, Inc. and for nonprofit organizations including the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina, the National Institute of Statistical Sciences and the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute. She is the former publisher of the Park Guide Magazine and also used to own the blog, “Tar Heel Eater.” Jamie and her husband, Scott, reside in Chatham County, North Carolina.