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. Metaphorically, the 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 its Systems Portfolio and in crafting Action Projects.
The items in each category pose different types of questions: Context Questions that explain how a particular system is realized in a given college or university; Process Questions that ask how an institution has designed and deployed processes that help it achieve its overall goals; Results Questions that ask about the performance of institutional processes whether their performance results meet requirements of stakeholders; Improvement Questions that ask how the institution promotes systematic improvement of its processes and performance in each category.