Last week five of us from Fresno Pacific attended the annual “Academic Resource Conference” of our regional senior college and university accrediting agency, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges or WASC. Three of our Deans (Dr. Gary Gramenz, Dean of Education, Dr. Cindy Carter, Dean of Degree Completion and Dr. John Kilroy, Dean of Business), and our President, Dr. Merrill Ewert who is Commissioner for WASC, joined with me in Costa Mesa (it’s a tough place to serve, but we all must do our part) for two full days. We also spent some time with our soon-to-be new President, Dr. Pete Menjares.
I am very happy to report that the events of this year’s meeting were not nearly so jarring as last year (see my blog from April of last year). Then the Federal Department of Education had mandated seat-time requirements in an age when universities and students everywhere are looking for alternatives (online, blended, accelerated programs, etc.). As someone said this year, ‘if the DOE worried about ‘seat-time’ they are concerned with the wrong end of the student.’ Well yes, but the DOE is concerned primarily about abuses of federal aid awarded to students, particularly at for-profit institutions. We get caught in the cross fire. All of us are learning to adapt to the heavy-handed regulations and at the same time concentrate on the achievement of “student learning outcomes.” This is the right end of the student on which to concentrate. WASC encourages this concentration, with the goal of “Continuous Improvement” as a learning organization.
There were many presentations on how to measure learning, what contributes to learning, how to demonstrate learning, how to move institutions to encourage greater learning. I am always, each year I attend, encouraged by the dedication of creative professionals at all kinds of schools—from our independent religious colleges and universities, to state universities, to research institutions, to specialized academies. We were each able to enter into wide ranging discussions with our colleagues from across the state and beyond. We are in a reaccreditation year, so this meeting was especially of interest to me as our current “ALO” (accreditation liaison officer). It was my third WASC trip of the year. We picked up a number of tips, got confirmation on what we are doing, and sorted through some thorny problems.
Perhaps the best time, was sitting with colleagues from other schools, other members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, or those with whom I have served on visiting teams for accreditation visits over the years. I met up with friends from Azusa, Biola, Vanguard, Cal Baptist, Claremont, CSU East Bay to name a few. We are all in this together, even when we occasionally compete for students. When we come together for discussion of learning and how to guide our institutions, faculty and students toward greater achievement, we become one big classroom. There are few secrets and information is shared widely and openly. We encourage and teach each other.
Our campus is now working on, and will continue to concentrate intensely on our WASC “self-study.” We will analyze our progress, the level of student learning accomplished, present evidence for that accomplishment (called in accreditation jargon “assessment”), and finally will host a “visiting team” of educators from other schools who will make a recommendation to the WASC Commission for our status as an accredited institution of higher education. (It sounds so simple here, but it will consist of something like two one hundred page reports, plus several hundred pieces of supporting evidence and documents.) It is a unique peer review process in comparison to most of the world where institutions of higher education are regulated by governments. To my way of thinking it is something to be preserved. It allows many unique kinds of institution to thrive, and makes different forms of education available to students with unique needs and desires.