WSCUC Response to COVID-19

Page Last Updated: 3/31/2021

The coronavirus outbreak is a concern to the entire WSCUC community. We have received inquiries for Commission advice about a variety of topics, including continuing academic operations, WSCUC institutional visits and reviews, and ARC2021. We are monitoring new information and developments and will post any relevant information or updates here.

The WSCUC membership includes institutions across the globe, in areas with different levels of health alerts relating to the COVID-19 situation. At this time, each institution is making its own determination about how to proceed in light of national, local, and institutional circumstances as the pandemic persists. The Commission does not provide specific guidelines on whether or how to continue operations beyond the principles set forth in our Standards. However, you are encouraged to contact your staff liaison if you have particular questions. 

We know you will honor the achievement of expected learning outcomes insofar as it is reasonable for your institution, and we recognize that you are in the best position to make accommodations so that students and employees can be as safe as possible. The Commission leaves these important decisions to individual campuses, believing that each will adhere to its learning objectives/goals as they can reasonably be achieved in the climate in which you are operating.

 

WSCUC News & Resources

 

Questions

  • Teams: Teams with questions about upcoming visits should contact their WSCUC staff liaison.
  • ALOs: ALOs with questions should contact their WSCUC staff liaison.
  • Substantive Change: jhausaman [at] wscuc.org
  • Unsure who to talk to? Email vipsupport [at] wscuc.org for assistance.

 

COVID-19 Resources for Colleges & Universities

 

Below you will find a variety of materials that might be useful as you consider scenarios for teaching in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  WSCUC does not provide models or exemplars, as each campus situation is different.  Further, institutions must consider dimensions of state, local and system policies that need to be followed or integrated into their plans, as well as student body and staff populations, physical and fiscal resources, and other characteristics unique to their institutions.  This list is not intended to be comprehensive. 

Campus Planning Resources

Additional Resources

 

FAQs re: COVID-19

 

The following FAQs are intended as a quick source of information for questions relating to accreditation. WSCUC vice presidents/staff liaisons are the best source of information to answer questions not addressed here or to discuss an institution’s particular situation. During the coronavirus pandemic, WSCUC staff are working to provide timely information and assistance; please do not hesitate to have your institution’s ALO contact us with any questions.

 

IF MY INSTITUTION IS CHANGING COURSE DELIVERY ELEMENTS SUCH AS CLASS TIME OR LENGTH, GROUP OR INDEPENDENT WORK, AND OTHER COMPONENTS, HOW DO WE SATISFY CREDIT HOUR REQUIREMENTS (SO-CALLED “SEAT TIME”)?

In keeping with the latest US Department of Education requirements (https://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/reg/hearulemaking/2009/credit.html), the definition of a credit hour does not dictate particular amounts of classroom time versus out-of-class student work. Thus, WSCUC is not relying on measures of seat time to indicate credit hour requirements are being met.  Credits may be awarded on the basis of documentation of the amount of work a student is expected to complete within a specified amount of academically engaged time, or on the basis of documented student learning calibrated to that amount of academically engaged time for a typical student. 

While you do not need to request approval from WSCUC to make these changes to course delivery elements, we suggest that institutions consider the following questions:  How will we ensure that our students have met their course and program learning outcomes?  How will we measure the effects that pedagogy or course delivery changes had on student learning?  Will this change likely affect licensure, certification or other qualifications that might impact our students?  What can we learn from this experience?

Institutions should be prepared to report on any changes made to instructional programs, including assessments of impacts from the changes, at their next regularly scheduled interaction with the Commission.

 

ARE THERE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PROGRAMS APPROVED TO BE OFFERED VIA DISTANCE EDUCATION AND THE INSTRUCTION THAT WE ARE CURRENTLY OFFERING ONLINE DUE TO COVID-19?

The short answer is “yes,” there are differences between approved distance education programs and the current flexibility that is allowed for institutions to provide courses via remote instruction.  Programs that have received approval for 50% or more of the major program to be offered via distance education have gone through an application and rigorous review process by WSCUC to ensure that regular and substantive interactions are supported between students and instructors, either synchronously or asynchronously, via technologies that may include the internet, closed circuit, wireless communication devices, etc.  (For details, see the WSCUC Substantive Change Manual.) Such programs, approved for distance education, may continue to present course instruction in distance modalities.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions may provide course instruction while physically-distanced from their students, which is sometimes called remote or virtual instruction. This type of COVID-adapted instruction is currently allowed by the US Department of Education for terms that start on or before June 30, 2021 without the typical substantive change process required for programs to be approved for distance education.  WSCUC is committed to providing support and flexibility for institutions to provide instruction in whatever modality they deem to be wise and reasonable under the circumstances.  The expectation is that this type of remote instruction will return to face-to-face when local, state and federal restrictions due to COVID-19 are relaxed.  For more questions, ALOs are encouraged to contact their WSCUC VP liaisons. 

 

MY INSTITUTION IS CONSIDERING PAUSING ASSESSMENT ACTIVITIES DUE TO COVID-19.  WILL THIS IMPACT OUR FUTURE WSCUC EVALUATIONS?

While we understand the severe operational and educational challenges brought by COVID-19, WSCUC encourages your institution to engage in some form of assessments and reflection that will assist you in determining the effects of actions taken.  For example, we suggest that institutions consider how to address questions like these:  What actions did you take to provide for academic and business continuity when faced with COVID-19 challenges?  What were the effects of those actions on the ability to provide educational experiences?  How successful were the learning experiences of your students, overall and looking at different subgroups?  What can you learn from these experiences that might be useful when regular classes resume and/or in future emergency situations? What can you learn that may apply generally to course design and delivery, student services, and other critical elements of your programs?

As noted by President Studley in her State of the Community address on April 24, 2020, assessment is a process designed to provide understanding and improvement.  In accreditation peer review, assessment is the foundation for thoughtful conversations.  Therefore, institutions should be prepared to report on any changes made to instructional programs, including assessments of impacts from the changes, at their next regularly scheduled interaction with the Commission.

 

MY INSTITUTION IS CONSIDERING CHANGING COURSES TO PASS/FAIL OR PASS/NO PASS GRADING. WHAT DOES WSCUC REQUIRE FOR US TO MAKE THIS CHANGE?

WSCUC does not govern grading systems or policies of institutions.  While you do not need to notify or request approval from WSCUC to change to pass/fail grading, when contemplating a grading system change, we suggest that institutions consider the following questions: Why are we planning to change grading systems? How will students understand their performance in the course, satisfaction of learning objectives, and readiness to move on to a new level or satisfy a prerequisite? What options are we considering, such as how long the grading change would last, what types of courses would be involved, and how this might affect transferability or equivalency of courses? How do we plan to manage and evaluate the impacts of the change? 

Institutions should be prepared to report on any changes made to instructional programs, including assessments of impacts from the changes, at their next regularly scheduled interaction with the Commission.

 

WHAT DO WE NEED TO DO IF OUR INSTITUTION IS SHORTENING THE CURRENT ACADEMIC TERM?

The US Department of Education is authorized to approve a reduced academic year if an institution determines it will close as the result of a campus health emergency.  If an institution determines closure is necessary, the institution should contact its assigned School Participation team at the US Department of Education to request a temporary reduction in the length of its academic year.  The institution should carefully consider other implications, such as Title IV, associated with such decisions.  The ALO for the institution should also contact their WSCUC staff liaison to apprise them of the closure.  No approval is necessary from WSCUC.

 

CAN AN INSTITUTION WAIVE GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS FOR STUDENTS? 

WSCUC does not govern course or graduation requirements of institutions.  While you do not need to notify or request approval from WSCUC to waive graduation requirements, we suggest that institutions consider the following questions:  How will we ensure that our students have met their program learning outcomes without these requirements? Are these requirements likely to affect licensure, certification or other qualifications that might impact our students? What notation might be needed on a student’s transcript?

Institutions should be prepared to report on any changes made to instructional programs or requirements, including assessments of impacts from the changes, at their next regularly scheduled interaction with the Commission.

 

[REVISED] ARE SPRING 2021 INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW VISITS STILL OCCURRING?

The short answer is “yes”. As President Studley announced to CEOs and ALOs in her 2020 letter, our WSCUC staff are working with institutions and review teams to transition to all remote reviews/visits for spring 2021. We will be building on the experience gained from the successful remote reviews we conducted in spring and fall 2020. The feedback we received indicated the remote reviews went smoothly and enabled effective and complete reviews. A remote review webinar for team members was held January 14, 2021. The webinar was recorded and the slides as well as the recorded webinar are available here. In addition to the remote reviews, the US Department of Education accreditation rules require an in-person visit at some point to confirm the findings of a remote review. The arrangements for those on-site visits are very flexible and need not be conducted at the same time as the remote review. Your WSCUC VP liaison will work out the scope, timing, and nature of the in-person visit with institutions. WSCUC remains committed to making all reasonable accommodations to assist institutions and to ensure fair and effective processes. Institutions should work with their WSCUC VP liaison to address scheduling and arrangements specific to their institution.
 

WILL THE WSCUC COMMISSION MEET IN FEBRUARY 2021 TO ACT ON FALL 2020 VISITS?

Yes, the Commission will be meeting in February to conduct business, as scheduled, although the meeting will be virtual.

 

HOW WILL NEW ALOs BE ORIENTED, ESPECIALLY CONSIDERING THAT THE 2020 ARC WAS CANCELLED?

A new ALO orientation webinar was held on May 21, 2020. ALOs who are new to WSCUC since the last ARC were invited to this session. The webinar was recorded and is available here. There was also an ALO Forum on May 28, 2020 to which new ALOs were invited. This event was also recorded and the recording as well as notes from the ALO panel and feedback from the ALO survey are available here. Should you have any questions or want more information, please contact your WSCUC VP liaison. 

WILL THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AFFECT WSCUC’S OPENNESS TO CONSIDERING INSTITUTIONS FROM OUTSIDE THE TRADITIONAL REGION FOR ACCREDITATION?

No, the pandemic does not affect the decision of WSCUC Commissioners to broaden our reach as an accreditor. WSCUC will consider requests for information and applications from institutions outside of our traditional western region having a relationship (or affiliation) with WSCUC-accredited institutions.  For more information, read the letter to the community.

 

HOW WILL COVID-19 AFFECT ELIGIBILITY, CANDIDACY AND INITIAL ACCREDITATION?

While WSCUC is well aware that all institutions have needed to divert time and energy away from accreditation efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions seeking WSCUC Eligibility and Candidacy and Initial Accreditation are continuing with their applications.

Eligibility:  In general, the eligibility process is continuing with little revision. Institutions beginning the eligibility process have a required training workshop (historically offered face-to-face, now offered virtually) that was previously followed by a visit to the institutions. Currently, the follow-up visit to institutions is being waived. A WSCUC eligibility webinar was held June 30, 2020. This event was recorded and the recording as well as the slides from the presentation are available here.

Seeking Initial Accreditation:  Institutions seeking WSCUC accreditation are continuing to make progress. WSCUC held some Seeking Accreditation Visits (SAVs) remotely this spring while others were moved to the fall.

 

HOW WILL COVID-19 AFFECT INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS SEEKING WSCUC ACCREDITATION?

The first cohort of international institutions seeking WSCUC accreditation submitted their required Expression of Interest (EOI) proposals on December 2, 2019, i.e., before the pandemic.  The WSCUC Commission was able to complete the EOI process in April and plans to announce results soon. WSCUC held an international accreditation webinar on July 21, 2020. This event was recorded and the recording from the presentation is available here