WSCUC Glossary

A glossary of terms related to accreditation and educational effectiveness is provided below. Many of these terms have multiple meanings and/or have been used in different ways by different associations, institutions, and individuals. The definitions that follow represent the way WSCUC typically uses these words for purposes of institutional review and reporting. If local usage differs significantly from the definitions below, the institution should translate its terms for accreditation purposes to avoid misunderstanding on the part of the evaluation team, WSCUC staff, and others.



see “Association of American Colleges and Universities.”

Absolute Graduation Rate

The absolute graduation rate (AGR) is the proportion of undergraduate degree-seeking students entering an institution who eventually graduate from that institution.

Academic freedom

institutional policies and practices that affirm that those in the academy are free to share their convictions and responsible conclusions with their colleagues and students in their teaching, research, and writing. According to the AAUP statement on academic freedom, teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but should not introduce controversial matter that has no relation to their subject.

Academic Resource Conference (ARC)

annual meeting sponsored by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.


see “Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.” 


in higher education, being answerable to the public, e.g., students, parents, policymakers, employers. Historically, accountability has focused on financial resources; emphasis now extends to students’ academic progress, including retention, acquisition of knowledge and skills, and degree completion.


as practiced by WASC and other regional accrediting associations, a voluntary, non-governmental, peer-based form of quality assurance at the institutional level. To receive or reaffirm accredited status, institutions demonstrate that they are in compliance with state and federal law and meet the accrediting association’s standards. Accrediting associations must be recognized by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) in order for their accredited institutions to qualify for federal grants and loans to students.

Accreditation Liaison Officer (ALO)

the individual at an institution who is assigned to conduct continuing relations with the accrediting agency and to oversee processes associated with the institution’s accreditation status. 

Accrediting body or agency

a voluntary, non-governmental association established to evaluate and approve educational institutions or programs. Some accrediting bodies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to establish institutional eligibility for distribution of certain federal funds such as student loans and grants.

Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)

agency that accredits two-year institutions in California, Hawai’i, and U.S. territories in the Pacific Basin. See “WASC.”

Accrediting Commission for Schools (ACS)

agency that accredits K-12 institutions in California, Hawai’i, and U.S. territories in the Pacific Basin.


see “Accrediting Commission for Schools.” 

Action letter

an official, public statement of findings, approved by the WASC Senior College and University Commission and signed by the WASC president, at the conclusion of the institutional review process. The letter typically commends exemplary institutional efforts, notes areas for improvement, contains recommendations, sets the number of years until the next review for reaccreditation, and may impose other conditions such as an interim report or special visit.


connections among functions or dimensions of an institution that support achievement of goals, e.g., among curriculum, pedagogy, and expected outcomes; or priorities, planning, and resource allocation.


see “Accreditation Liaison Officer.”

American Association of University Professors (AAUP)

organization whose purpose is to advance academic freedom and shared governance; define professional values and standards for higher education; and support higher education’s contribution to the common good.

Appeal of Commission Action

the second and final stage of the Senior College and University Commission’s review and appeal process, under which certain Commission decisions may be appealed in accordance with the Constitution of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. See also “Review of Commission Actions.” 


see “Academic Resource Conference.”

Assessment (of student learning)

an ongoing, iterative process consisting of four basic steps: 1. defining learning outcomes; 2. choosing a method or approach and then using it to gather evidence of learning; 3. analyzing and interpreting the evidence; and 4. using this information to improve student learning.

Assessment method

 a way to collect evidence of student learning. See “direct method” and “indirect method.” 

Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)

Washington-based national organization dedicated to promotion of liberal learning and its integration with professional and civic education.

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see “Degrees, B.A., B.M., and B.S.”


a point of reference or standard of excellence in relation to which something can be compared and judged. A specific level of student performance may serve as the benchmark that students are expected to meet at a particular point in time or developmental level. Retention and graduation rates may also be benchmarked against those of peer institutions or national norms. 

Board of Trustees; also Board of Regents, Board of Directors

the governing body that bears ultimate legal and fiduciary responsibility for the smooth functioning and quality of the educational institution. The board makes high-level decisions regarding finances, the physical plant, academic programs, and other matters, operating at the level of policy, not management. The president answers to and is evaluated by the board.

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a status of preliminary affiliation with the Senior College and University Commission, awarded for a maximum of four years following a procedure for institutional review that includes self-study and on-site visitation. Candidacy indicates that the institution meets all or nearly all the Standards at a minimum level. Candidacy is not accreditation and does not ensure eventual accreditation; it means that an institution is progressing toward accreditation.


a culminating project or experience, usually associated with undergraduates but also applicable to graduate education, that generally takes place in the student’s final year of study and requires review, synthesis, and application of what has been learned over the course of the student’s college experience. The result may be a product (e.g., original research, an innovative engineering design, an art exhibit) or a performance (e.g., a recital, an internship, student teaching). The capstone can provide evidence for assessment of a range of outcomes, e.g., core competencies, general education outcomes, and institution-level outcomes, as well as those for the major or graduate degree.


see “Criterion for Review.”

Co-curricular learning

learning that takes place in activities and programs that are not part of the prescribed sequence of courses in an academic program.
College – a term with multiple meanings in U.S. usage: 1. historically, a small, undergraduate liberal arts institution; 2. a generic term, sometimes used as a synonym for university, to denote any postsecondary educational institution, including universities; 3. a grouping of related disciplines within a university, e.g., College of Engineering. 


a term with multiple meanings in U.S. usage: 1. historically, a small, undergraduate liberal arts institution; 2. a generic term, sometimes used as a synonym for university, to denote any postsecondary educational institution, including universities; 3. a grouping of related disciplines within a university, e.g., College of Engineering.

College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ)

survey developed in 1979 to gauge quality of effort and engagement. A forerunner of NSSE, the CSEQ contributed to the shift to studying behaviors as indicators of the student experience. The CCSEQ is designed for community college students.

Commission, also WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

refers to the Senior College and University Commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC); may denote either the entire senior college organization or its decision-making body.

Comparative data

data drawn from other sources: from within or, more typically, from outside the institution. Comparative data can enhance meaning and contextual understanding of the primary data being reviewed and analyzed.


in assessment of student learning, a specific skill, body of knowledge, or disposition; can also refer to the student’s ability to demonstrate that learning. “Competency” is sometimes used interchangeably with “outcome,” “objective,” and “ability.” 


a written and signed complaint, based on WASC Standards, that may be submitted to the Senior College and University Commission about an institution, or against WASC. 

Completion, also degree completion

signifies that students are able to graduate, having completed all requirements for their degree; sometimes used as a synonym for “graduation.”


the institution’s mission, values, student body, and other factors that influence student- and institution-level outcomes.

Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP)

a program of the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA that includes multiple surveys. Best known is the survey administered to incoming students that asks questions about academic preparedness, expectations of college, values and goals, demographic characteristics, financial concerns, and other topics. 

Core commitments

WASC’s Standards and process are founded on three Core Commitments: to student learning and success; to quality and improvement; and to institutional integrity, sustainability, and accountability. WASC-accredited institutions demonstrate their adherence to these commitments through the institutional review process.

Core competencies

as defined in WASC Standard 2, Criterion for Review 2.2, institutions report on graduating students’ levels of performance in five core competencies: written and oral communication, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and information literacy. Not to be confused with “core curriculum” (see “core curriculum”).

Core curriculum

1. an approach to general education that requires all students to take the same set of courses, rather than choosing from a menu of options; 2. sometimes used as a synonym for general education. See also “general education.”

Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)

Washington-based organization of degree-granting colleges and universities that advocates for self-regulation of academic quality through peer-based accreditation. CHEA promotes assessment of student learning as one way to improve educational quality and pre-empt criticism of institutional performance. 


a learning experience of defined scope and duration, with intended learning outcomes, as described in a catalog, bulletin, or syllabus.


1. a certificate stating that the student has graduated from a particular curriculum, has passed certain subjects, or demonstrated mastery of a specific set of skills; 2. a statement signed by a proper authority certifying that a person is authorized to perform certain functions or has been designated as an official representative.

Credit, unit of; credit hour

 a commonly accepted quantification of student academic learning. One semester unit represents the time a student is expected to devote to learning in one week of full-time undergraduate study (typically two to three hours of preparation for each hour of class, or the equivalent, for a full-time course load of 14 to 16 units per semester). At the graduate level, typically, more than three hours of study for every hour in class is expected. Institutions using other academic calendars generally calculate units of credit relative to semester units. For example, one (15-week) semester unit may be equated to 1.5 (10-week) quarter units.


a characteristic mark or trait on the basis of which a judgment may be made. Criteria for good writing, for example, may be the ability to state a position clearly, support the position, anticipate contradictory arguments, and do so in error-free language.

Criterion for Review (CFR)

as used by WASC, a Criterion for Review (CFR) is a statement in relation to which an institution is reviewed. Criteria for review are more specific than the four Standards of Accreditation and are intended to define and explain the Standards. Substantial compliance with both the Standards and Criteria for Review is required by state and federal laws for accreditation. CFRs also provide guidance to institutions and form the basis for Commission decisions about an institution’s accreditation status.

Critical thinking

the ability to think in a way that is clear, reasoned, reflective, informed by evidence, and aimed at deciding what to believe or do.  Dispositions supporting critical thinking include open-mindedness and motivation to seek the truth.


see “College Student Experiences Questionnaire.” 

Culture of evidence

a habit of using evidence in assessment, decision making, planning, resource allocation, and other institutional processes that is embedded in and characteristic of an institution’s actions and practices.

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Defer action

deferral is not a final decision; it authorizes time for the institution to correct specified deficiencies, provide additional information, or make progress in defined areas before a decision can be made regarding reaccreditation. Deferrals are granted for a maximum period of one year.

Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP)

a framework funded by the Lumina Foundation that describes the kinds of learning and levels of performance that may be expected of students who have earned an associate, baccalaureate, or master’s degree.


the representation and recognition of people of different backgrounds and points of view in the various constituencies of a college or university, e.g., student body, faculty, staff, and governing board.


see “Degree Qualifications Profile.”

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Educational effectiveness (EE)

producing the intended learning results in an educational endeavor. As used by WASC, educational effectiveness includes clear and appropriate educational outcomes and objectives; and alignment at the institutional and program level of resources and processes, including assessment, to ensure delivery of programs and learner accomplishments at a level of performance appropriate to the degree or certificate awarded. At the institutional level, findings about learning are integrated into planning, budgeting, and decision making.


an individual who supports students in becoming educated. In the WASC context, refers to staff at institutions of higher education who may not be designated as faculty but contribute to students’ learning, e.g., librarians, student affairs and student services personnel, advisors, counselors, tutors. 


see “educational effectiveness.”


a status conferred on non-WASC-accredited institutions after committee review; signifies the institution meets basic criteria and in the judgment of the committee has the potential to meet WASC Standards at a minimum level and thus progress to candidacy.

Eligibility Review Committee (ERC)

a standing committee of WASC that conducts reviews of the applications received from institutions seeking WASC accreditation to determine whether the institution has the potential to meet the Standards and other requirements.

Embedded assessment

a minimally intrusive and efficient method of collecting evidence of learning using the work or performances that students produce in response to course assignments. 


see “Eligibility Review Committee.”


a process for measuring and judging the quality of performance of an institution, a program, a process, or individuals, e.g., instructors, administrators. While assessment of student learning and evaluation processes are related, they do differ and it is best not to use the terms interchangeably.


the required data, documents, and other items that are included as part of the institutional report and are reviewed for reaffirmation of accreditation. 

Experiential learning

see “prior learning assessment.”


outside. In higher education, “external” may mean outside of the immediate department or unit, outside of the division or college, or outside of the institution. Including external representatives in quality assurance processes can provide insight into program quality and areas for improvement; it also lends greater credibility to reviews and institutional claims to quality. 

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instructional staff of an institution responsible for the design, delivery, and assessment of academic programs. It is up to each institution to determine who holds faculty status. In WASC usage, “faculty” does not typically include administrators, counselors, or other campus educators, e.g., in student service personnel. Full-time faculty members are those whose primary employment obligation is to teaching and research at the institution. Part-time or adjunct faculty members may have continuing contracts and be involved in program development and review, governance, and other matters; or they may be assigned a specified number of classes with few or no other responsibilities to the institution. The institution is responsible for having clear policies on faculty roles and responsibilities.

Faculty Evaluation

a practice to determine the effectiveness of faculty teaching a course, typically in the form of surveys administered to students enrolled in the course and posing questions about the instructor’s knowledge of material, clarity of presentation, accessibility, etc. Accuracy and usefulness have been debated, but results may influence tenure, promotion, and merit decisions. Should not be confused with assessment of student learning, which is typically a collective activity focused on aggregate student learning results.

Financial Review Committee (FRC)

a standing committee of WASC that conducts reviews of financial data to evaluate the financial viability of institutions and identifies institutions that may require follow-up action or monitoring. Findings of the FRC are reviewed by the evaluation team as a routine part of the Offsite review for reaccreditation.

Focus group

a qualitative assessment method that uses small-group discussions, led by a facilitator and following a protocol, to gather information about attitudes, beliefs, and experiences. Responses are recorded and then analyzed. Although focus groups are usually considered an indirect method, they have been used to provide direct evidence, e.g., of students’ ability to apply learning or demonstrate institutional values.

Formal Notice of Concern

a Senior College and University Commission action that serves notice to the institution that, while it currently meets WASC Standards, it is in danger of being found out of compliance with one or more Standards if current trends continue. It may also be issued if an institution is removed from sanction and the Commission wishes to emphasize the need for continuing progress. Formal Notice of Concern requires a special visit within four years to assess progress. If the Commission’s concerns are not addressed by that time, a sanction is imposed.


see “Financial Review Committee.”

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General education

the portion of an undergraduate course of study that provides general background knowledge and develops generic higher-order intellectual skills. General education can take many forms. Some programs are “foundational,” i.e., students complete required courses before going on to the major; other programs run parallel with study in the major over the entire college career; still others integrate the learning outcomes of general education into other coursework


1. in assessment of student learning, a high-level, very general statement of learning expected of graduates, aligned with the institution’s mission, vision, and values (more specific learning outcomes are derived from goals); 2. a statement developed by an institution or program related to strategic planning, financial development, and other important issues.


in U.S. higher education, usually a letter ranging from A through D (with F for failure) that indicates the quality of student work and performance in a given course. 


statement in WASC’s 2013 Handbook of Accreditation accompanying a Criterion for Review that indicates normative ways institutions address that CFR. Guidelines are intended to be suggestive, not prescriptive; institutions are free to demonstrate in other ways that they comply with the basic principle set forth in the CFR.

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High-impact practice (HIP)

HIPs include first-year seminars, common intellectual experiences, learning communities, writing-intensive courses, collaborative assignments, undergraduate research, diversity/global learning, service learning, internships, and capstone courses or projects. Research suggests that if students experience one or more HIPs in the course of their studies, they are more likely to persist, achieve higher levels of learning, and complete their degrees. 

Higher education

postsecondary education, i.e., beyond high school, leading to academic degrees or credentials.


see “high-impact practice.”

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see “outcome.”

Information literacy

according the Association of College and Research Libraries, the ability to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use the needed information” for a wide range of purposes. An information-literate individual is able to determine the extent of information needed, access it, evaluate it and its sources, use the information effectively, and do so ethically and legally.

Initial accreditation

indicates that the institution has met the Senior College and University Commission’s Standards at a substantial level. Initial accreditation may be awarded for a period of five to seven years before the next comprehensive review.

Institutional research

1. collection of institutional data useful for analysis, planning, and accreditation review; 2. the office that collects, organizes, and reports such data. 

Institutional Review Process (IRP)

in WSCUC usage, periodic review of an institution for reaffirmation of accreditation. Documentation includes earlier reviewers’ findings from annual reports and focused reviews (e.g., substantive change, finance, retention and graduation); the institution’s response to earlier recommendations; and responses to current Standards of Accreditation and expectations. The institution undertakes a self-study and submits an institutional report; the evaluation team then conducts Offsite and on-site reviews. The IRP culminates in a team report, Senior College and University Commission action, action letter, and posting of the team report and action letter on the WASC Web site.

Interim Report

a report, generally requested by the Senior College and University Commission following a comprehensive review for reaccreditation, in which the institution can describe its progress in complying with specific Commission recommendations.

Interim Report Committee (IRC)

a standing committee of WASC that reviews interim reports and supporting documents, following up on recommendations that have been made in a Commission action letter or previous Interim Report.


see “Interim Report Committee.”


see “Institutional Review Process.”

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see “Liberal Education and America’s Promise.” 

Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP)

a project of AAC&U, the LEAP outcomes (also known as Essential Learning Outcomes) total 12, grouped under the headings “Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Natural and Physical World,” “Intellectual and Practical Skills,” “Personal and Social Responsibility,” and “Integrative and Applied Learning.”

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Meaning, quality, and integrity of the degree (MQID)

in WSCUC usage, a phrase that refers to the goals, coherence, sequencing, alignment, resourcing, and overall quality of the educational experience leading to conferral of an institution’s degree.


in higher education, an institution’s formally adopted statement of its fundamental reasons for existence, its shared purposes and values, and the students that it aims to serve. The mission is central to decisions about priorities and strategic objectives and provides a context for WASC decisions about quality and accreditation.

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National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)

a nationally normed, widely administered survey that asks students about behaviors, e.g., how often they ask questions in class, use the library, consult with a professor outside of class. The survey does not assess learning directly; the assumption is that higher engagement will lead to higher levels of retention, completion, and learning. A suite of analogous surveys has been developed for two-year schools, members of a school’s faculty, etc.


see “National Survey of Student Engagement.”

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1. in assessment of student learning, a concise statement of what the instructor (or program or institution) intends a student to learn (on some campuses, objectives then lead to development of learning outcomes); 2. sometimes used interchangeably with “outcome,” but “outcome” has become the more common usage because of its more direct focus on the result (or “outcome”) for the student; 3. in institution- or program-level planning, more specific statements derived from general goals; 4. in psychometrics, a test consisting of factual questions requiring short answers that can be reliably scored using an answer key, minimizing subjective judgments.

Offsite Review

the first major stage of WASC review for reaccreditation. Carried out by an evaluation team that examines the institutional report, reports of the Retention and Graduation and Financial Review Committees, and other documentation. Offsite review leads to preliminary findings that are subsequently verified by the evaluation team during an physical visit to the institution.

Oral communication

communication by means of spoken language for informational, persuasive, and expressive purposes. In addition to speech, oral communication may employ visual aids, body language, intonation, and other non-verbal elements to support the conveyance of meaning and connection with the audience. Oral communication may include speeches, presentations, discussions, dialogue, and other forms of interpersonal communication, either delivered face to face or mediated technologically. 

Order to Show Cause

a Senior College and University Commission action to terminate the accreditation of an institution unless the institution can show cause why such an action should not be taken. Such action may be taken 1. when the institution is found to be in substantial noncompliance with one or more of the Standards; 2. when, having been placed on Warning or Probation for at least one year, it has not made sufficient progress. Also, an Order may be issued as a summary sanction for unethical institutional behavior. In response, the institution has the burden of proving why its accreditation should not be terminated. The accredited status of the institution continues during Show Cause, but the institution is subject to special scrutiny by the Commission, which may require reports and special visits.


1. in assessment of student learning, a concise statement of what the student should know or be able to do. Well-articulated learning outcomes describe how a student can demonstrate the desired outcome; verbs such as “understand” or “appreciate” are avoided in favor of observable actions, e.g., “identify,” “analyze.” Learning outcomes can be formulated for different levels of aggregation and analysis. Student learning outcomes are commonly abbreviated as SLOs, course learning outcomes as CLOs, program learning outcomes as PLOs, and institution-level outcomes as ILOs. 2. Other outcomes may address access, retention and graduation, and other indicators aligned with institutional mission and goals.

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Peer review

in higher education, a quality assurance process for purposes of improvement and accreditation that draws upon individuals active in the field of higher education.

Peer reviewer

a person who is professionally qualified to review an educational or other program, either for internal quality assurance and improvement or for accreditation purposes. 


the development of a design by which an institution sets goals and objectives and identifies the means to measure their accomplishment. Institutional planning may address educational programs, support services, the physical plant, budgets and finances, and other aspects of institutional operation and future development. 


in WSCUC usage, a binding statement that reflects the will of the Commission and/or the U.S. Department of Education. Some policies are relevant to all institutions, e.g. the Accreditation Liaison Officer Policy; others are relevant only to those institutions whose activities fall within the scope of the policy, e.g. policies on collegiate athletics, distance education.


in assessment of student learning, a method of collecting student work so that the evidence can be reviewed in relation to specific learning outcomes. Most student portfolios also include a reflection on the learning process. Portfolios are highly adaptable: they may be developmental (showing progress from rough draft to finished product) or cumulative (i.e., students’ “best work”); and they may be assembled at the level of the individual student, program, or institution. 


a term commonly used to signify the chief executive officer (CEO) of an institution; in some systems, referred to as Chancellor.

Private institution

see “independent institution.”


a Senior College and University Commission action that indicates a finding that the institution is seriously out of compliance with one or more of the Standards. While on Probation, the institution is subject to special scrutiny by the Commission, which may include a requirement to submit periodic reports and receive special visits. The accredited status of the institution continues during the two-year Probation period. Imposition of Probation is subject to Commission Review.

Professional program

an educational program designed to prepare students for a specific profession. It may apply to both undergraduate and graduate programs that prepare students for direct entry into employment. Graduate-level professional programs typically presuppose an undergraduate degree. 


the level of knowledge or degree of skill that a student has achieved. 


1. a systematic, usually sequential, grouping of courses that forms a considerable part, or all, of the requirements for a degree in a major or professional field; 2. sometimes refers to the total educational offering of an institution.

Program review

a systematic process of examining the capacity, processes, and outcomes of a degree program or department in order to judge its quality and effectiveness and to support improvement. Historically, program review focused primarily on capacity and research output; more recently, educational outcomes and student success have been included. While student success and assessment of learning at the program level are an important part of program review, they should not be confused with the more encompassing process of program review. 

Progress report

a report, generally requested by the Senior College and University Commission following a comprehensive review for reaccreditation, in which the institution can describe progress in complying with specific Commission recommendations.

Public good

n higher education, a phrase expressing the notion that in addition to being a private good for individual students, education is a public good contributing to shared prosperity, a successful democracy, and a well-functioning society. As a public good, higher education is worthy of public support.

Public trust

a phrase expressing the notion that certain natural and cultural resources belong to all the people; are created to promote the general welfare, not to benefit particular individuals; are maintained for the public’s benefit; and are managed in the interests of the public. Critics of higher education charge that institutions and their leaders have betrayed the public trust, e.g., through lowered standards, high costs, and insufficient responsiveness to public concerns.

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Quality assurance

any process for systematic monitoring and evaluation to ensure that standards of quality are being met. Higher education has many traditional processes for quality assurance, including review of courses and programs, tenure review, program review, annual reports, personnel evaluations, peer review of research and publications, and assessment of student learning. 

Quantitative reasoning

the ability to apply mathematical concepts to the interpretation and analysis of quantitative information in order to solve a wide range of problems, from those arising in pure and applied research to everyday issues and questions. It may include such dimensions as ability to apply math skills, judge reasonableness, communicate quantitative information, and recognize the limits of mathematical or statistical methods.

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Reaffirm accreditation

an action that occurs at the end of the institutional review process or when an institution is taken off a sanction; indicates that the institution has met or exceeded the expectations of the Standards. It is granted for a period of seven to 10 years and may be accompanied by a request for an interim report or special visit; simultaneous issuance of a formal Notice of Concern is also possible.


collection, analysis, and publication of data, studies, or other findings in order to expand a field of knowledge or its application. 


typically refers to the rate at which students return and re-enroll in college from semester to semester and year to year; retention rates from first to second year are of particular interest, since that is when the heaviest attrition is likely to occur.

Review under the WSCUC Standards and Compliance with Federal Requirements

a worksheet used in the reaccreditation process to identify an institution’s strengths, areas for improvement, and compliance with WSCUC standards and federal requirements.


in education, refers both to a challenging curriculum and to the consistency or stringency with which high standards for student learning and performance are upheld. 


1. a tool for scoring student work or performances, typically in the form of a table or matrix, with criteria that describe the dimensions of the outcome down the left-hand vertical axis, and levels of performance across the horizontal axis. The work or performance may be given an overall score (holistic scoring), or criteria may be scored individually (analytic scoring). Rubrics are also used to communicate expectations to students. 2. WSCUC has developed a number of rubrics to assist teams and institutions in evaluating various aspects of their curriculum and assessment processes.

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a Warning, Probation, or Show Cause. Under U.S. Department of Education regulations, when the Senior College and University Commission finds that an institution fails to meet one or more of the Standards, it is required to notify the institution of this finding, issue a sanction, and give the institution up to two years from the date of the action to correct the situation. If the institution has not remedied deficiencies at the end of the two-year sanction period, the Commission is required under federal regulations to terminate accreditation. Warning, Probation, and Show Cause represent rising degrees of concern, but sanctions need not be applied sequentially. Whichever sanction is imposed, the Commission is required by federal law to terminate accreditation, rather than continue the institution under the same or a new sanction for another two-year period, unless clear progress has been made within two years.


see “Substantive Change Committee.”


1. the act of study and/or research; 2. the knowledge that results from study and research in a particular field. In Scholarship Reconsidered (1991), Ernest Boyer defined four kinds of scholarship: discovery, integration, application, and teaching. His new paradigm recognized the full range of scholarly activity engaged in by college and university faculty and questioned a reward system that prioritized research and publication while devaluing teaching. Since then, the scholarship of teaching and learning has gained increasing respect.


in U.S. usage, 1. refers primarily to institutions offering primary and secondary education; 2. may also denote a grouping of related disciplines, usually professional/applied, within a university, e.g., School of Allied Health. Also, in casual parlance, a synonym for “college” or “university.”

Show Cause

see “Order to Show Cause.”

Signature assignment

an embedded assessment method using an assignment—either the identical assignment or multiple assignments all constructed according to a common template—across multiple courses or sections of courses. A sample of students’ work products is then examined using a rubric to arrive at judgments about the quality of student learning across the course, program, or institution. Alternatively, a signature question may be embedded, for example, in final exams.


see “outcome.”

Special Visit

a focused visit, which may be requested by the Commission or less frequently by a standing committee, to follow up on a specific area of concern. 


broadly refers to statements of expectations for student learning, which may include content standards, performance standards, and benchmarks. In the K-12 arena, standards generally describe content, but not level of mastery. In higher education, in contrast, standards generally refer to expected levels of mastery or proficiency. Not to be confused with standards of accreditation.

Standard of performance

the degree of skill or proficiency with which a student demonstrates a learning outcome. WASC Standard 2, CFR 2.2a, requires institutions to report on their students’ levels of performance at or near the time of graduation in five core competencies: writing, oral communication, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and information literacy. Standards of performance are set by faculty and other educators on campus.

Standards of accreditation

standards of accreditation are the principles used as a basis for judgment in accreditation reviews. WASC has four Standards that flow from three Core Commitments. They are used to guide institutions in assessing institutional performance, to identify areas needing improvement, and to serve as the basis for judgment of the institution by evaluation teams and the Senior College and University Commission.

Student success

a phrase often used as shorthand for retention and degree completion. For WASC, student success includes quality of learning and rigor as well as retention and completion.

Substantive Change Committee (SCC)

a standing committee of WASC that reviews proposals for changes that may significantly affect an institution’s quality, objectives, scope, or control.  The Commission requires prior approval of institutional substantive changes in degree programs, methods of delivery, and organizational changes.

Summary sanction for unethical institutional behavior

if it appears to the Senior College and University Commission that an institution is seriously out of compliance with Standard 1 (Institutional Purposes and Integrity) in a manner that requires immediate attention, an investigation is made and the institution has an opportunity to respond. If the Commission concludes that a sanction is warranted, it may issue an Order to Show Cause or a less severe sanction, as appropriate. 


ability of an educational institution to maintain effective functioning and improve over the long term. Assumes financial viability, but also availability of human capital and other resources, as well as institutional vision, planning, and flexibility.

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Team (also accreditation team, evaluation team, visiting team)

a group of peers from the higher education community that is selected and trained to review an institution’s institutional report, data exhibits, and other documents; conduct Offsite and on-site reviews; and write a report on its findings and recommendations. 


disclosure by postsecondary institutions of information that may be sought by or of interest to policymakers, stakeholders, or the public. Such information may include financial data, retention and graduation rates, and various indicators of educational quality. Transparency and accountability are assumed to be mutually reinforcing.

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U.S. Department of Education (also D.O.Ed.)


see “University of California Undergraduate Experiences Survey.” 

Unit Redemption Rate

The unit redemption rate (URR)is the proportion of units granted by an institution that are eventually ‘redeemed’ for an undergraduate degree from that institution.


an institution of higher education with undergraduate- and graduate- or only-graduate-level degree programs and adequate resources to support them, as defined by the Standards.

University of California Undergraduate Experiences Survey (UCUES)

a survey that covers students’ academic and co-curricular experiences, behaviors, attitudes, self-perceptions, and goals, in addition to collecting demographic data. Specifically designed for students at University of California campuses and subsequently adopted by other research universities around the United States.

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VALUE rubrics

Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education. A set of 15 rubrics developed by AAC&U in collaboration with hundreds of faculty to assess learning outcomes defined by the LEAP project. Institutions may download the rubrics at no cost and are encouraged to modify them to suit local needs.


in the WASC context of institutional reaccreditation, the second major stage of institutional review. Refers to the presence of an evaluation team at a campus or institutional headquarters to verify and finalize findings regarding compliance and improvement that have been reached tentatively during the Offsite review. See also “Offsite review.”

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a sanction that reflects the WASC Commission’s finding that an institution fails to meet one or more of the Standards of Accreditation. Accredited status of the institution continues during the Warning period, which may last up to two years. A Warning is subject to Commission review. See “Commission review.”

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