About a decade ago, a friend from the South Dakota Department of Education asked Mark Halling to come along on an accreditation review at one of South Dakota's colleges.
As of last year, he was one of two people in the state to be trained and certified by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), the national organization that looks into teaching education programs' accreditation.
"It's like going in for a physical. We examine every part of the education program," Halling told The Daily Republic on Wednesday. "And if they're trying to hide something, it'll get found out. There is no such thing as a perfect education program, and every program should want the reviewers to find something in which they can improve."
To become CAEP certified, Halling - who has undergraduate, masters, specialists and doctoral degrees in various areas relating to education - had to go through extensive training, including classes, four days of intensive training in Huntsville, Alabama, with applicants from across the state and a final assessment.
Halling, a former teacher and principal, said that although there are times in the accreditation review process during which reviewers have some down time, there are also parts that are extremely busy, meaning he's had to find time while teaching at Dakota Wesleyan University to complete his responsibilities as a reviewer.
The process starts six months before reviewers visit a campus, when a school submits reports for each of the programs to be reviewed. For each of those programs, the state's Department of Education finds someone who is an expert in that area to analyze the report, using a rubric. That analysis is then sent back to the Department of Education.
Next, one month before the reviewers visit the campus, the school submits a 70- to 80-page self-study report, which six reviewers, each assigned one category, look through and then discuss their findings together.
The on-site visit begins on a Sunday and ends on a Tuesday, and reviewers use that time to conduct extensive interviews and verify information from the reports they've already seen.
Once the reviewers make their final decision, they submit it to the state, which then decides whether to approve a school's accreditation.
Although he's historically only reviewed education programs in South Dakota, Halling said that he recently completed his first on-site visit to an out-of-state school.
Halling, who submitted his resignation to DWU and, after 10 years, will be leaving at the end of the semester to pursue other opportunities in either education or governmental work, said he's found the impact the accreditation process makes on future educators to be rewarding.
"The goal of it is to improve the quality of teacher education that that institution provides," he said. "It's improving the quality of the profession."