Part IV: Commission Decisions On Institutions

The Commission serves as the decision-making and policy-setting body of WSCUC. The Commission is responsible for determining the action taken for eligibility, candidacy, initial accreditation and reaffirmation of accreditation of institutions being reviewed. Following the visit, the Commission reviews the accreditation history of an institution, institutional report and exhibits, the evaluation team’s report, the response, if any, of the institution to the evaluation team report, any comments made by the institution’s representatives to the Commission subsequent to the evaluation team report, and any other pertinent documents. It bases its decisions on the evaluation of the evidence before it. Institutional representatives have the opportunity to come before the Commission during the panel deliberations prior to Commission action.

The Commission may reaffirm accreditation for a period of 6, 8 or 10 years, or impose a sanction or other conditions, in accordance with the 2013 Handbook of Accreditation. Once the Commission has made a decision regarding the accreditation of an institution, it notifies the institution in the form of an action letter as promptly as possible, but no later than 30 days from the Commission meeting. Action letters may contain special conditions, limits, or restrictions, which the institution is expected to follow in order to maintain accreditation. Examples include, but are not limited to: requiring Progress Reports, Interim Reports or Special Visits; and placing restrictions on the initiation of new degree programs, the opening of additional sites, or enrollment growth. Following Commission actions, all action letters and team reports are made publicly available on the WSCUC website. A report of Commission actions is published and distributed following Commission meetings, and each institution’s status is noted on the Commission website, in the Member Directory. Evaluation team reports for Comprehensive Reviews and Special Visits, as well as the Commission action letters, are also made public on the WSCUC website. (See the Policy on Disclosure of Accreditation Documents and Commission Actions).

Forms of Possible Commission Action
The forms of possible Commission action with regard to institutions include:

1. Grant Candidacy or Initial Accreditation
2. Deny Candidacy or Initial Accreditation
3. Defer Action
4. Reaffirm Accreditation
5. Issue a Formal Notice of Concern
6. Issue a Sanctiona. Warningb. Probationc. Show Cause 
7. Withdraw Candidacy or Accreditation

In taking an action, the Commission may impose conditions or request additional reporting or site visits.

Forms of Possible Commission Action

The forms of possible Commission action with regard to institutions include:

  1. Grant Candidacy 
  2. Grant Initial Accreditation
  3. Deny Candidacy or Initial Accreditation
  4. Defer Action
  5. Reaffirm Accreditation
  6. Issue a Formal Notice of Concern
  7. Issue a Warning
  8. Impose Probation
  9. Issue an Order to Show Cause
  10. Withdraw Candidacy or Accreditation

Grant Candidacy or Initial Accreditation

(See: How to Become Accredited Manual) 

Candidacy: The institution must demonstrate that it meets all, or nearly all, of the Standards of Accreditation at a minimum level and has a clear plan in place to meet the Standards at a substantial level of compliance for accreditation. Candidacy is limited to five years and is granted only when an institution can demonstrate that it is likely to become accredited during the five-year period.

Initial Accreditation: The institution has met Commission Standards at a substantial level. Initial accreditation is for a period of six years before the next comprehensive review.

Deny Candidacy or Initial Accreditation

Denial of candidacy or initial accreditation reflects the Commission’s finding that an institution has failed to demonstrate that it meets all, or nearly all, of the Standards of Accreditation at the required level for candidacy or initial accreditation. In this circumstance, Commission policy provides that an institution may reapply once it has demonstrated that it has addressed the issues leading to the denial. In all cases, it must wait at least one year before reapplying. (See the policy on Reapplication After Denial of Candidacy or Initial Accreditation.) Denial is an appealable action, as explained below. 

Defer Action

Deferral is not a final decision. It is provisional and designed to provide time for the institution to correct specified deficiencies. This action allows the Commission to indicate to an institution the need for additional information or progress in one or more specified areas before a positive decision can be made. Deferrals are granted for a maximum period of one year.

Reaffirm Accreditation

Reaffirmation of accreditation occurs at the completion of the institutional review process or when an institution is taken off of a sanction. It indicates that the Commission has found that an institution has met or exceeded the expectations of the Standards and the Core Commitments to Student Learning and Success, Quality and Improvement, and Institutional Integrity, Sustainability, and Innovation. Reaffirmation is granted for a period of 6, 8 or 10 years* and will be accompanied by a requirement for a Mid-Cycle Review to enable the Commission to discover any aresa of potential non-compliance with its Standards. The Commission may also request other reports and/or Special Visits, or a formal Notice of Concern

Issue a Formal Notice of Concern

This action provides notice to an institution that, while it currently meets WSCUC Standards, it is in danger of being found out of compliance with one or more Standards if current trends continue. A formal Notice of Concern may also be issued when an institution is removed from a sanction and the Commission wishes to emphasize the need for continuing progress and monitoring. Institutions issued a formal Notice of Concern have a Special Visit within four years to assess progress. A Notice of Concern is public information and will be posted on the WSCUC website. If the Commission’s concerns are not addressed by the time of the visit, a sanction is imposed, as described below.

* Effective fall 2015

Sanctions

Under U.S. Department of Education regulations, when the Commission finds that an institution fails to meet one or more of the Standards of Accreditation, it is required to notify the institution of these findings and give the institution up to two years from the date of this action to correct the situation. If an institution has not remedied the deficiencies at the conclusion of the two-year sanction period, the Commission is required, under U.S. Department of Education regulations, to take an “adverse action,” defined in the law as the denial or withdrawal of accreditation. Thus, all institutions must address the areas cited by the Commission expeditiously, with seriousness and the full attention of the institution’s leadership. It is the responsibility of the Commission to determine, at the end of the sanction period, whether the institution has corrected the situation(s) and has come into compliance with Commission Standards.

The Commission has adopted three sanctions—Warning, Probation, and Show Cause—to inform the institution and the public of the severity of its concerns about an institution’s failure to meet one or more Commission Standards or one or more of any conditions or restrictions that were contained in a Commission action letter. Sanctions are not intended to be applied sequentially. Whichever sanction is imposed, the Commission is required by federal law to withdraw accreditation, rather than to continue the institution under the same or a new sanction for another two-year period, unless clear progress has been made within two years. 

All sanctions are made public and are published on WSCUC’s website. The institution is also expected to notify its constituents about the Commission action and WSCUC publishes the Commission action letter and related team report, in accordance with the WSCUC policy on Disclosure of Accreditation Documents and Commission Actions. 

In addition, when an institution is placed on a sanction, the Commission typically requests that a meeting be held between WSCUC staff, the institution’s chief executive officer, representatives of the institutional governing board, and senior faculty leadership within 90 days following the imposition of the sanction. The purposes of the meeting are to communicate the reasons for the Commission action, to learn of the institution’s plan to notify the institutional community about the action, and to discuss the institution’s plan for addressing the issues that gave rise to the sanction.

Federal law permits an extension of the two-year time frame when “good cause” is found. The Commission has determined that it will grant an extension for good cause only under exceptional circumstances and only when the following criteria are met:

  1. The institution must have demonstrated significant accomplishments in addressing the areas of noncompliance during the period under sanction, AND
  2. The institution must have demonstrated at least partial compliance with the Standard(s) cited, and, for any remaining deficiencies, demonstrate an understanding of those deficiencies, and readiness, institutional capacity, and a plan to remedy those deficiencies within the period of extension granted by the Commission. 

In determining whether these criteria have been met, the Commission will also consider whether:

  1. The quality of education provided by the institution is judged to be in substantial compliance with Commission Standards at the time of the extension, AND
  2. The Commission has evidence of any new or continuing violations of Standard 1 regarding institutional integrity, AND
  3. The Commission has evidence of other reasons or current circumstances why the institution should not be continued for “good cause.” 

The Commission may extend accreditation for “good cause” for a maximum of two years, depending on the seriousness of the issues involved and on its judgment of how much additional time is appropriate. By the conclusion of the extension period identified by the Commission, the institution must prepare a report that details its compliance with those Standards cited by the Commission. Demonstrated compliance with Commission Standards is required and must be supported by verifiable evidence. Progress or promises of future action after such an extension are not sufficient.

Issue a Warning

A Warning reflects the Commission’s finding that an institution fails to meet one or more of the Standards of Accreditation. While on Warning, any new site or degree program initiated by the institution is regarded as a substantive change (see the Substantive Change Manual for details). The candidate or accredited status of the institution continues during the Warning period. The Commission action to issue a Warning is subject to Commission Review, described below.

Impose Probation

Probation reflects the Commission’s finding that the institution has serious issues of noncompliance with one or more of the Standards of Accreditation. While on Probation, the institution is subject to special scrutiny by the Commission, which may include a requirement to submit periodic prescribed reports and to receive Special Visits by representatives of the Commission. In addition, while on Probation, any new site or degree program initiated by the institution is regarded as a substantive change (see the Substantive Change Manual for details). The candidate or accredited status of the institution continues during the Probation period. The Commission action to impose Probation is subject to Commission Review, described below.

Issue an Order to Show Cause

An Order to Show Cause is a decision by the Commission to terminate the accreditation of the institution within a maximum period of one year from the date of the Order, unless the institution can show cause as to why such action should not be taken. Such an Order may be issued when an institution is found to be in substantial noncompliance with one or more Commission Standards or, having been placed on Warning or Probation for at least one year, has not been found to have made sufficient progress to come into compliance with the Standards. An Order to Show Cause may also be issued as a summary sanction for unethical institutional behavior (see Summary Sanctions for Unethical Institutional Behavior, below). In response to the Order, the institution has the burden of proving why its candidacy or accreditation should not be terminated. The institution must demonstrate that it has responded satisfactorily to Commission concerns, has come into compliance with all Commission Standards, and will likely be able to sustain compliance. 

The accredited status of the institution continues during the Show Cause period, but during this period, any new site or degree program initiated by the institution is regarded as a substantive change and requires prior approval. (See the Substantive Change Manual for details). In addition, the institution may be subject to special scrutiny by the Commission, which may include special conditions and the requirement to submit prescribed reports or receive Special Visits by representatives of the Commission. The Commission action to issue and order to show cause is subject to Commission review, as described below. 

Withdraw Candidacy or Accreditation

A decision to withdraw candidacy or accreditation is made by the Commission when an institution has been found to be seriously out of compliance with one or more Standards. Although not required, a decision to withdraw accreditation may be made after an Order to Show Cause or another sanction has been imposed and the institution has failed to come into compliance. When accreditation is withdrawn, a specific date of implementation is specified. An action to withdraw candidacy or accreditation is subject to the WSCUC appeals process. If an institution closes after a withdrawl action, the institution must comply with federal requirements and WSCUC policies about teach-out arrangements. WSCUC has established policies on notice of such actions (See policy on Disclosure of Accreditation Documents and Commission Actions) and on teach-out agreements (see policy on Teach-out Plans and Agreements). See the Commission Web site for the most current version of these policies.

Summary Sanctions for Unethical Institutional Behavior

If it appears to the Commission or its staff that an institution is seriously out of compliance with Standard One (Institutional Purposes and Ensuring Educational Objectives) in a manner that requires immediate attention, an investigation will be made and the institution will be offered an opportunity to respond on the matter. If the Commission concludes that the institution is seriously out of compliance due to unlawful or unethical action it may:

  1. Sever relations if the institution has applied for, but has not yet been granted, candidacy or accreditation; or
  2. If the institution is a candidate or accredited, either:
    1.  issue an Order to Show Cause why its candidacy or accreditation should not be withdrawn at the end of a stated period; 
    2.  in an extreme case, sever its relationship with the institution by denying or withdrawing candidacy or accreditation; or 
  3. Apply less severe sanctions as deemed appropriate.

Commission Review Process for Institutions on Sanction

Institutions that are placed on Warning, Probation, or Show Cause, or for which applications for Candidacy or accreditation are denied, may request a review of this decision according to the following procedures. These review procedures are designed as a continuation of the accreditation peer review process and are therefore considered to be non-adversarial.

1. When the Commission takes any of the actions listed above, its President will notify the given institution of the decision by a method requiring a signature, within approximately 14 calendar days of the Commission’s decision. Said notification shall contain a succinct statement of the reasons for the Commission’s decision.

2.  If the institution desires a review of the Commission action, it shall file with the President a request for a review under the policies and procedures of the Commission. This request is to be submitted by the chief executive officer of the institution and co-signed by the chair of the governing board. Requests for review by an institution in a multi-college system shall also be signed by the chief executive officer of the system. The request for review must be received by a method requiring a signature, within 28 calendar days of the date of the mailing of the Commission’s notification of its decision to the institution. The fee for the review process shall accompany the request. 

3.  Within 21 calendar days after the date of its request for review, the institution, through its chief executive officer, must submit a written statement of the specific reasons why, in the institution’s opinion, a review of the Commission’s decision is warranted. This written statement shall respond only to the Commission’s statement of reasons for the Commission’s decision and to the evidence that was before the Commission at the time of its decision. In so doing, the institution shall identify the basis for its request for review in one or more of the following areas: (1) there were errors or omissions in carrying out prescribed procedures on the part of the evaluation team and/or the Commission which materially affected the Commission’s decision; (2) there was demonstrable bias or prejudice on the part of one or more members of the evaluation team or Commission which materially affected the Commission’s decision; (3) the evidence before the Commission prior to and on the date when it made the decision that is being questioned was materially in error; or (4) the decision of the Commission was not supported by substantial evidence.

The institution may not introduce evidence that was not received by the Commission at the time it made the decision under review.It is the responsibility of the institution to identify in the statement of reasons what specific information was not considered, or was improperly considered, by the visiting team or the Commission and to demonstrate that such acts or omissions were a material factor in the negative decision under review.

The statement of reasons will be reviewed by Commission staff for compliance with this provision. If, in the judgment of Commission staff, the statement of reasons is deficient, it will be forwarded to the Commission chair. Should the Commission chair concur with the judgment of Commission staff, no review committee will be appointed and the statement will be returned to the institution.

If the statement of reasons is returned, the institution will be provided the opportunity to revise the statement within 21 calendar days from the date the notice of return is sent to the institution. Should the institution resubmit its statement of reasons within the prescribed time period, the revised statement will be reviewed by Commission staff. If the revised statement is still found to be deficient, it will be forwarded to the Commission chair. Should the Commission chair concur that the revised statement is deficient, no review committee will be appointed. This action is final.

4. On acceptance of the institution’s written statement referred to in 3. above, a committee of three or more persons will be selected by Commission staff to serve as the review committee. A roster of the review committee will be sent to the institution, normally within 30 calendar days of the date of the Commission’s receipt of the institution’s written statement. No person who has served as a member of the visiting team whose report is subject to review shall be eligible to serve on the review committee. The institution will be provided opportunity to object for cause to any of the proposed review committee members. After giving the institution this opportunity, Commission staff will finalize the membership of the review committee.

5. Within a reasonable period of time after the review committee has been selected, the President will schedule a meeting of the review committee at a location separate from the institution and Commission offices. No assurance can be made that the review committee process will take place in time for the review to be included on the agenda of the next Commission meeting.

6. Prior to the meeting of the review committee, the committee members will review available information. If additional information is needed, the chair of the review committee may request such information from the chief executive officer of the institution, Commission staff, or the visiting team, before, during, or after the meeting of the review committee.

7. The review will be investigative and designed to determine if any of the grounds for review cited by the institution are valid. 

8. Commission staff other than the WSCUC liaison for the contested Commission action will assist the review committee as needed. The Committee may interview, among others, Commission readers, the chair or members of the previous visiting team, and the Commission staff member who supported the team visit. Outside legal counsel is not permitted to attend or be present in meetings with the review committee without consent of the review committee chair. If allowed to be present, legal counsel will not be allowed to conduct any part of the proceedings but will be permitted to advise institutional representatives as needed. The Commission legal counsel may advise the review committee, but may not attend those portions of the review committee’s meetings when it is meeting with institutional representatives, unless legal counsel for the institution is also permitted to be present.

9. The review committee should open and close its meeting with the chief executive officer or other institutional representatives by attempting to ascertain whether or not the institution has any complaints about any aspect of the review process. All written evidence is to be provided to the review committee together with the institution’s request for review. The Commission office shall provide the review committee with documents that were available to the Commission at the time of its action. If additional information is requested from the institution, it is to be provided at least seven business days in advance of the review committee’s meeting. The review committee is only allowed to consider evidence that was available to or known by the Commission at the time of its taking action. No new evidence or information relating to actions or events subsequent to the date of the Commission action is to be presented or considered by the review committee.

10. The review committee shall prepare a report that states the reasons for the Commission action, identifies each reason advanced by the institution in its request for review, and, for each reason, evaluates the evidence that the institution has presented in support of its request for review. In addition, the review committee may evaluate additional evidence that, in its opinion, is relevant to its recommendation to the Commission. The report shall state only findings of fact and not consider or cite any evidence relating to facts or events occurring after the date of Commission action. 

11.  The chair of the review committee will submit a copy of the review committee’s report that is referred to in 10. above to the chief executive officer of the institution, the chair of the institution’s governing board, and the President of the Commission, normally within 30 calendar days of the end of the review committee’s meeting. 

12.In a confidential letter to the Commission, the review committee will recommend whether the Commission decision that is under review should be affirmed or modified. This recommendation of the review committee to the Commission will not be disclosed to the institution being reviewed. The recommendation is not binding on the Commission.

13. Within 14 calendar days of the institution’s receipt of the review committee’s report, the chief executive officer will submit a written response to the President of the Commission, with a copy to the chair of the review committee, for transmittal to the Commission. The review will be placed on the agenda of an upcoming Commission meeting, for consideration by the Commission.

14. Prior to the Commission meeting, a reader meeting will be conducted by conference call or in person where the chief executive officer of the institution and a limited number of institutional representatives will be invited to discuss the review committee report with those Commissioners designated as readers. The chair of the review committee will also be invited to participate in the call. Discussion at this reader meeting will be confined to the report of the review committee referred to in 10. above and to the institution’s response to this report.

15. The Commission readers will report the substance of this meeting to the Commission when it meets. Institutional representatives will be invited to appear before the Commission before it takes action.

16. The Commission will reach a final decision to: (1) reaffirm its original decision; (2) modify it; or (3) reverse it. As soon after the meeting as is practicable, the President will notify the chief executive officer of the institution, by a method requiring a signature, of the Commission’s decision. 

17. Special charges for the review process have been established by the Commission. A list of these charges is available from the Commission office and on the Commission website.

18.  The Commission may develop any necessary procedures and instructions to review committees to implement this process. These materials will be available from the Commission office.

 

Commission Decisions Regarding Accreditation Status

The Commission will provide written notice to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, the appropriate state licensing or authorizing agency, other accrediting agencies, WSCUC- accredited and candidate institutions, and the public no later than 30 days after it makes: 

No later than 60 days after a final decision to deny or withdraw accreditation, the Commission will make available to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, the appropriate state licensing or authorizing agency, and the public upon request, a brief statement summarizing the reasons for the agency’s decision.

Institutional Decisions Regarding Accreditation Status

The Commission will, within 30 days, notify the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, the appropriate state licensing or authorizing agency, and the public upon request, if an institution:

    Regard for Decisions of Other Agencies

    If the Commission is notified by another recognized accrediting agency that an applicant or candidate institution has had a status of recognition with that agency denied, revoked, or withdrawn, the Commission will take such action into account in its own review if it is determined that the other agency’s action resulted from an institutional deficiency that reflects a lack of compliance with the WSCUC Standards of Accreditation.

    If the Commission is notified by another recognized accrediting agency that an accredited institution has had a status of recognition with that agency revoked, suspended, or withdrawn, or has been placed on a publicly announced probationary status by such an accrediting agency, the Commission will review its own status of recognition of that institution to determine if the other agency’s action resulted from an institutional deficiency that reflects a lack of compliance with WSCUC’s Standards of Accreditation. If so, the Commission will determine if the institution’s status with the Commission needs to be called into question, or if any follow-up action is needed.

    If the Commission is notified by a state agency that an applicant, candidate, or accredited institution has been informed of suspension, revocation, or withdrawl of the institution’s legal authority to provide postsecondary education, the Commission will review its own status of recognition for that institution to determine compliance with the Standards of Accreditation. If the Commission finds the institution is no longer in compliance with the Standards, the Commission will determine the appropriate action to be taken.

    In implementing this policy, the Commission relies on other accrediting bodies and state agencies to inform the Commission of their actions so that the Commission can undertake the review specified in this policy. Applicants for eligibility with the Commission shall provide information on any actions by a recognized accrediting association within the past five years. In addition, the Commission requires candidate and accredited institutions holding accredited or candidate status from more than one USDE-recognized accrediting body to keep each accrediting body apprised of any change in its status with one or another accrediting body.