Educational Effectiveness

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What have we been up to the last couple of years, along with our regular cycle of classes, scholarship, performances and business? We have been involved in one of the most important exercises an institution like ours engages in—reaccreditation. Let me outline what we do, and why we do it. You will see why we invest so much of our energy, and how it helps us to be better at what we do. It is our job in the administration and faculty leadership to focus our work on this process.

The last stage of our reaccreditation is rapidly coming to a conclusion. Every university goes through this about once every seven to 10 years. It takes an enormous amount of energy, but it is a healthy exercise, reminding us of our purpose and sharpening our commitment. Our accrediting agency is WSCUC (formerly WASC) or WASC Senior College and University Commission.

This final stage is called the “educational effectiveness review,” or EER. We have already demonstrated our “capacity” to carry out our mission and work. Now we will demonstrate two things: first that our students are learning what we say they learn, and second that we as an institution are learning how we can be better at educating students and sending them on into their futures. The purpose of accreditation is “continuous improvement”—our WSCUC working group is the “Continuous Improvement Committee.”

For the last several years we have been gathering data on student learning. The university faculty established 10 “university student learning outcomes.” We gather data on these from across the university, at each level and at each campus. The results of last year’s assessment are posted for the public. We will demonstrate student learning through academic program reviews (evaluations of departments like psychology, biology or business, for instance) and in our co-curricular activities. Our Student Development Division will demonstrate how well students learn leadership and stewardship, for example.

For our EER we established “Inquiry Circles” composed of faculty, staff and administration, with student representatives as well, which researched how well we are accomplishing our mission in six major areas: writing, critical thinking, the “rigor of degrees,” diversity, assessment, and finance and resources.  Each of the circles gathered data, interviewed those on campus working in pertinent areas and interpreted the evidence to measure both student learning (writing, critical thinking, rigor of degrees) and institutional learning (diversity, assessment systems, and finance and resources).

We continue the effort each year. Each evaluation gives priority to how we teach and where we invest our resources and time. The assessment of learning outcomes is linked to how we teach, plan and budget. We invest time and resources for greater learning, and assess again—“continuous improvement” in action. The entire campus has been involved and has contributed to the process.

In the future we will want to assess how well our students learn those outcomes that are unique to FPU—service, faith and its implications, cross cultural understanding, ethical understanding and action. And we will want to ask how “community” contributes to learning. We believe deeply in these desired outcomes and characteristics or qualities of FPU. We will set out to demonstrate how and why they are important and effective for student learning. It is relatively easy to measure basic or specialized knowledge: how to complete a process, etc. Some disciplines can use national exams, for instance. It gets more difficult when we try to measure deeper understanding or judgment, and more difficult still to assess the effect the university has on students at their deepest level, their hearts. We are in the process of assessing our international experiences, how students learn about reconciliation and how they have learned to establish healthy relationships.

This is all being assembled into a relatively brief document—40 pages (with hundreds of exhibits, pages of evidence and supplementary documents). A team of four educators, volunteers with WSCUC, will visit us at the end of February to interview us, see how we function, verify what we have written and help us understand ourselves better. When it is all done, we will be certified as a university that meets all of the accreditation standards and “criteria for review,” and which educates students for faithfulness, wisdom and service.

If you want to know what we do as educators and as a university, accreditation explains it. We are dedicated to the education of students, and to improving in our pursuit of that education. The WSCUC standards and our assessment of learning help ensure that we accomplish our mission as a university. American higher education is unique for the variety of its institutions, and its peer-accrediting process. Accreditation helps us to be a better Christ-centered university. It requires us to focus on our mission and the education of students.

It may not seem very exciting, but when you see students walk across the stage at commencement, you can be assured that they are graduates fully prepared to take their place in the professions, service organizations, churches, schools or businesses that they have aspired to.

Steve Varvis