What is accreditation?

Team visits UC Santa Cruz for 10-year review to assess goals, progress, and outcomes

Herbie Lee, Vice Provost Academic Affairs (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

UC Santa Cruz is an accredited university, but what does that really mean? Accreditation is a system of quality assurance where the campus defines educational goals and shows that students progress to achieving those goals.

Our regional accreditor is the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission, which includes most institutions in California, Hawaii, and the Pacific. UC Santa Cruz was previously reviewed 10 years ago, so this year we are being reviewed again.

The WASC review team is visiting campus this week, today through Thursday and is holding open forum meetings Wednesday Oct. 14 at McHenry Library.  The open meetings are in Room 4286.; faculty from 1:15-2 p.m.; staff 2:15-3 p.m.; and students 3:15-4 p.m.

The focus of accreditation is the quality of education in degree programs—majors for undergraduates, and masters and doctoral degree programs for graduate students. University efforts are evaluated using a number of metrics, including how faculty ensure the effectiveness of the curriculum and approaches to teaching.

It is expected that each program explicitly defines what students should know or be able to do by the time they graduate. These skills and knowledge sets are called Program Learning Outcomes, and they are posted for every undergraduate major in both the course catalog and on the program webpages. Most graduate programs have posted their outcomes on their webpage and in their graduate handbook. For our students, these outcomes can provide the big picture of what they learn in that degree.

Our faculty don’t just say what they expect their students to know and be able to do, but they make sure that the curriculum provides sufficient opportunities for students to develop these skills, and they measure student progress. To evaluate graduating students’ skills and knowledge, program faculty look at key assignments in the final year, such as a capstone project, an exam in a senior-level course, or a thesis.

Assessment of student learning provides information to faculty on the success of the program and where to focus efforts for improvement. The main goal of assessment is to ensure that students are learning effectively so that they graduate well prepared to pursue careers and/or continue on to graduate school.

 Our faculty have made significant efforts in the past few years in developing program learning outcomes, conducting assessment, and using their results to inform faculty discussions and teaching practices. A number of programs are planning changes as a result of what they have learned from these assessments. In sum, our program faculty, who are the most qualified to define and assess the learning outcomes, have established a discipline-specific process for ensuring a high quality education for all students in a way that we believe is the most appropriate for a research university.

We are hosting our second annual Symposium on Assessment of Learning for faculty and graduate students on November 20, 2015, in collaboration with UC Merced. This annual event provides opportunities to discuss critical issues in teaching and assessment, to share approaches and results, and to envision future directions for our campuses. More details are available at: http://planning.ucsc.edu/irps/assessment/symposium2015.asp

The accreditation review also looks more broadly at the campus, including processes such as advising, enrollment management, infrastructure, and faculty governance; overall graduation rates, and rates by different demographic subgroups, are monitored. Achieving accreditation assures that an institution meets high standards of quality and effectiveness, and is, for instance, important for student access to Federal financial aid and faculty access to Federal research funding.