Sunday, November 20, 2011

Accreditation (Redux): Western Association Announces Some Changes (In my view, they don't go far enough.)

Commission Approves Resolution on Accreditation Redesign - November 3, 2011

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Following a public hearing and extensive discussion at the Commission meeting, the Commission has approved the first stage of the accreditation redesign process. Click here to read the full text of the resolution.

At its November 3, 2011 meeting, the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) approved an accreditation redesign resolution that takes significant steps to enhance its role as an agent of quality assurance and public accountability. In doing so, WASC will give greater attention to student success and student learning in the accreditation process. The proposed changes respond to the public demand to ensure a quality education from accredited institutions while also balancing pressures from institutions for the process to be efficient and effective.

Highlights of the redesign include:

Enhancing transparency by making Commission action letters and team reports publicly available on the WASC website effective June 2012
Increasing accountability of institutions to graduate students by externally reviewing and validating retention and graduation rates
Requiring institutions to demonstrate proficiency of their graduates in 5 key areas: written communication, oral communication, quantitative skills, critical thinking and information literacy
In addition to these changes, WASC is launching a voluntary pilot of the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) developed by the Lumina Foundation to gather information on its usefulness as a framework in assessing the meaning and quality of the degree. The results of the pilot will help determine what uses of the DQP are appropriate for quality assurance in the accreditation process.

Linda Johnsrud, chair of the Commission and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost of the University of Hawai’i system, stated, “We have been measuring student learning outcomes and using the data to improve programs, but now it is time to look at those outcomes and ask, ‘Are they good enough? Are the degrees awarded by the institutions we accredit sufficient in quality and rigor?’”

WASC undertook an extensive accreditation redesign in 2001 to become outcomes focused, followed by an update to the Handbook of Accreditation in 2008. The current redesign is intended to build on and accelerate the institutional work to date of increasing educational effectiveness. Anna DiStefano, chair of the Redesign Steering Committee, a member of the Commission and Faculty at Fielding Graduate University, explains, “Throughout this twelve month process, WASC has taken seriously its responsibilities both to the public and to our member institutions. The proposed changes to the accreditation process were generated from the work of five Task Forces and a Steering Committee with widespread institutional representation. Feedback gathered at regional meetings, webinars and a public hearing have enhanced the Commission’s final resolution. This resolution moves WASC forward in significant ways.”

The higher education landscape has changed drastically in the last 10 years including an increase in for-profit and non-traditional institutions seeking accreditation. With the amount of federal financial aid rising to $150 billion annually, a debate has ensued about the ability of regional accreditors to adequately monitor academic quality of accredited institutions. New numbers showing that student loan debt has outpaced credit card debt has also increased scrutiny of higher education institutions and accreditation. WASC is committed to working with the region to address the real issues that students face today. Tim White, member of the Commission and Chancellor of UC Riverside, explains, “The new options in the toolbox of assessment promise to hold every accredited institution to a high standard, while at the same time allowing the wide and diverse range of institutions to thrive.”

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