Upcoming NWCCU Accreditation site visit will ask students to speak up
By MELISSA SCRIVEN
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
An accreditation team from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities will be on campus in late April to talk to students, faculty and staff to determine if UAS is meeting its educational goals.
Accreditation evaluates an institution’s performance and integrity, and is also necessary for the university to participate in federal programs such as financial aid.
“You really want somebody external to come in and look at your programs,” said UAS Provost Karen Carey.
“If you go to a school that is not accredited, how do you know that the school is providing you with the best education they possibly can?” Carey said in an interview with the Whalesong.
Accreditation is overarching for the entire university. According to Carey, every seven years UAS must complete a self-study as part of the process to reaffirm accreditation.
The 2019 study document is 212 pages long. It was submitted in early February to the NWCCU and the nine evaluators who will visit campus.
The document focuses on how the university is fulfilling its mission of “Student learning enhanced by faculty scholarship, undergraduate research and creative activities, community engagement, and the cultures and environments of Southeast Alaska.”
This mission can be found posted around campus. The university created metrics, described in the self-study report, to measure if and how UAS is meeting objectives.
Each NWCCU evaluator will take a different section of the document and then meet with students, faculty, staff, community leaders and others to determine “if what we’re saying we’re doing in this document is actually what we’re doing,” Carey said.
She said accreditation is a good way to be evaluated by peers. Evaluators “make sure that we are doing everything that we say we should be doing, in terms of providing students a good education,” she said.
Campus visits are a key aspect to the peer review process, according to Charles “Mac” Powell, Ph.D., a Senior Fellow of the NWCCU. Powell is liaison for UAS during the accreditation process.
In an email to the Whalesong, Powell stated that on-site visits are “where experts from around the country meet with institutional representatives to ground truth and to dive deeply into the educational quality assurance practices.”
Powell said the campus evaluators are chosen from a pool of evaluators nominated by institutional leaders around the region. He said specific assignments are “based upon an evaluator’s professional experience and area of expertise” and avoid conflicts of interest.
The commission’s evaluators will conduct meetings April 24 and 25 on the Juneau campus. Not every meeting will consist of the entire team.
Carey said the NWCCU cares about “continuous improvement,” so that “if we don’t meet one of the metrics we identified for ourselves, what is our plan to improve on that?”
“For us, it’s really important that everybody be honest,” Carey said. “I mean, nobody’s going to say we’re Stanford and we’re fine with that, we don’t want to be Stanford.”
After their campus visit, NWCCU evaluators will present a preliminary verbal report of their findings to Chancellor Rick Caulfield. They will then write and organize their findings to send to the full commission.
NWCCU consists of eleven people from the Pacific Northwest with extensive experience in higher education, such as university chancellors and presidents. In late June, the commission will meet in Park City, Utah to make a decision regarding UAS accreditation.
Individual programs can also receive national accreditation. Currently at UAS, the Business department is seeking accreditation and the Education program is seeking reaccreditation.
“There are a number of different fields that accredit their own programs,” Carey said.
Earlier this year, the University of Alaska Anchorage lost education program accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Carey said UAA is accredited by the NWCCU.
The last time UAS went through the accreditation process was in 2009. Then the Northwest commission changed standards and UAS was allowed more than seven years to account for those changes, Carey said.
In an effort to “continually refine and improve our work to bring relevance, currency, and value to the accreditation process,” Powell said the NWCCU evaluates its standards every eight years, a cycle that is separate from university seven-year evaluation processes.
Carey said as soon as UAS knows the commission’s recommendation on accreditation, it will be made public, “blasted on [the UAS] website.”
Powell said accreditation is “an extremely valuable system of evaluation” for student success. “I would exhort your readers, the students, faculty, and staff, to become more knowledgeable and engaged in the accreditation of [UAS],” he added.
Students can learn more about accreditation by attending an informational forum, hosted by Provost Carey, prior to the visit. Each forum will also be teleconferenced to Ketchikan and Sitka.
Get Involved: Attend a forum with Provost Carey
Ask questions and learn more about the accreditation process. Each session is for a primary audience, but all are welcome to attend any forum.
- Wednesday, April 10 at 12-1 p.m., Egan Lecture Hall
- Monday, April 15 at 2-3 p.m. in the Lecture Hall
- Thursday, April 11 at 11:30-12:30 p.m. in the Glacier View Room
- Wednesday, April 17 at 1:30-2:30 p.m. in Egan Lecture Hall
- Friday, April 12 at 3-4 p.m., Egan Lecture Hall
- Friday, April 19 at 12-1 p.m. in the Lecture Hall
Teleconference: Dial 866-832-7806 and use Participant Code 1434017