What Is WASC Accreditation?
The heart of accreditation lies in the institutional self-review. To be done effectively and with integrity, the review requires the public commitment of the institution’s leadership to openness, candor, and serious engagement, and an evident intention to use the results of the self-review to improve institutional capacity and educational effectiveness. The WASC accreditation process does not review all aspects of institutional functions in a compliance mode. Instead, it reviews and validates effective ongoing internal systems of quality review and improvement. External evaluation under this approach can only be successful when built on an effective internal institutional process of evaluation, reflection, recommendations, and plans for action.
Overview of the Accreditation Review Cycle
The accreditation review process consists of three stages: the Institutional Proposal, the Capacity and Preparatory Review (CPR), and the Educational Effectiveness Review (EER). This three-stage process applies to all institutions, regardless of where they are in the accreditation process. In the case of institutions being considered for candidacy or initial accreditation, and for institutions with a recent history of sanctions, the primary focus of the review is on institutional compliance with the Standards of Accreditation. Other institutions may choose to focus on selected themes and address the Standards in the context of those themes.
As described below, the Institutional Proposal is intended to define and organize how the institution will address Commission Standards through self-review. It focuses on several major issues that will improve institutional performance, especially with respect to educational effectiveness. The CPR and EER are intentionally designed to be aligned and sequential, to enable the institution to engage in a staged, developmental process that leads beyond minimum compliance to significant improvement of both institutional capacity and educational effectiveness. The maximum time period between Capacity and Preparatory Reviews is ten years, though the Commission often places institutions on shorter cycles of review.
In order to obtain accreditation or remain accredited, each institution is required to demonstrate, through the three-stage process, that it fulfills the two Core Commitments of the Accrediting Commission:
- Commitment to Institutional Capacity: The institution functions with clear purposes, high levels of institutional integrity, fiscal stability, and appropriate organizational structures to fulfill its purposes.
- Commitment to Educational Effectiveness: The institution evidences clear and appropriate educational objectives and design at the institutional and program level, and employs processes of review, including the collection and use of data, that assure delivery of programs and learner accomplishments at a level of performance appropriate for the degree or certificate awarded.
The role of WASC evaluation teams at each stage of the review process is to work with the institution’s evidence and exhibits to determine if they accurately and fairly represent the institution within the context of Commission Standards, and to determine if the institution has effectively addressed the Core Commitments and will be able to sustain and improve its capacity and effectiveness for the period of accreditation granted by the Commission.
Outcomes of the Accreditation Review Process
The Commission has identified the following outcomes for the accreditation review process. For the institution:
- The development and more effective use of indicators of institutional performance and educational effectiveness to support institutional planning and decision making;
- Greater clarity about the institution’s educational objectives and criteria for defining and evaluating those objectives;
- Improvement of the institution’s capacity for self-review and its systems of quality assurance, data collection and analysis;
- A deeper understanding of student learning, the development of more varied and effective methods of assessing learning, evaluation of whether levels of performance are appropriate to the degree and program, and the use of assessment results to improve program and institutional practices;
- Systematic engagement of the faculty on issues of assessing and improving teaching and learning processes within the institution and on aligning support systems for the faculty more effectively toward this end.
To fulfill the purposes of accreditation:
- Validation of the institution’s presentation of evidence, both to assess compliance with accreditation Standards and to provide a basis for institutional improvement;
- Demonstration of the institution’s fulfillment of the Core Commitments to Institutional Capacity and Educational Effectiveness.
Institutions that have successfully completed the three-stage process find that the process can lead to significant institutional engagement and improvement on important issues, especially assessment, student learning outcomes, and educational effectiveness.
From: WASC (2009) Resource Book for Fall 2009 Visits.