• President Studley’s ARC2024 Opening Remarks

    April 29, 2024 - WSCUC


The Big Picture

President Jamienne S. Studley

Welcome, on behalf of the WSCUC Commission and staff. We’re grateful you’re here. I’m Jamie Studley, and I’m proud to be the Pres of WSCUC. We appreciate your taking time, at the busy end of the traditional academic year, to join us in creating a community of exploration.
This gathering has its roots in another meeting 100 years ago. On April 19, 1924, several presidents came together in Claremont, CA as the Southern California Conference of Colleges and Universities to discuss shared interests. The presidents of the State Normal School in Los Angeles (we know it now as UCLA) and Pomona College invited Cal Tech, Occidental, Redlands, and Whittier. Soon the group added LaVerne and USC, and became the Assn of Colleges and Universities of the Pacific Southwest. The group expanded north and became the Western College Association. In 1948 WCA became an accreditor and ultimately the independent WSCUC you know (and I hope love) today.

Continuing this century long tradition of exchange and community building, I invite you to say hello to someone near you whom you don’t know – and please do that throughout the conference.

And as far as meeting– I’d like to thank our sponsors for their support of this event, leading with the Diamond Sponsor – the law firm Husch Blackwell. I encourage you to meet the sponsors and learn about their services at the receptions and exhibit area.

And please make a note of something you hope to accomplish at ARC. Are you hoping to share – or collect — an actionable idea? You may use ARC to step back from your deadlines to scan the horizon. Maybe refine your plan for a new project or presentation, or meet someone in a role like yours. Or is your goal to connect with your VP liaison — or WSCUC rock stars like John Hausaman or Marcy Ramsey?

This community gathers now at a complicated time at the global, national, and institutional levels. Violence and famines persist. Just this month of April we’ve seen a total eclipse – at least that one was expected; earthquakes shook New York City, and — almost as unexpected — more people tuned in to the women’s college basketball finals than the men’s.

Closer to home it’s also unsettled. Please raise your hand –and keep it up

  • IF your institution is working on a strategic plan…. An accreditation review. Figuring out FAFSA applications and implications, or a question about AI. … ok, put them down.
  • Again: raise your hand if a valued colleague has left, or you have a vacancy or a new person on your team… you have a new president or CEO.
  • Now: In your family has someone has left home for college or work… someone you care about has a serious health issue… you’re in the midst of a renovation project, or planning a wedding.
  • If anyone did not raise your hand, you have an unusually peaceful life, or perhaps you should turn off your podcast and take out your ear buds.

In short, if it’s hard to concentrate, or meet your goals, it’s no surprise, and you’re not alone. Fortunately, at ARC we are among colleagues who understand, and are historically constructive and collaborative. We will learn together about student success, education quality, and accreditation.

  • WSCUC Chair Tracy Tambascia and I will set the stage. My fireside conversation with Paul LeBlanc will situate us in the changing landscape of learning and AI, student success, new models and innovation, and leadership.
  • Tomorrow morning the second plenary session, “Student Achievement: Metrics That Matter,” continues our focus on success for all students through our signature initiative “better conversations, better data,” launched with funding from Lumina Foundation. Intense policy and family attention to student outcomes demands that we be smart about what we measure — and use evidence to design and improve every aspect of institutions.
  • In 116 concurrent sessions you, our presenters and innovators, will generously share specific strategies and important questions. Think about what sessions you will propose to bring to ARC next year.
  • There’s also an array of WSCUC-led sessions on classic accreditation processes and issues.
  • Use ARC to connect with colleagues, through SIGs (special interest groups), breakfast table talk, and Forums for ALOs and for CEO/senior leaders.
  • And we’ll close with a “capstone” session Saturday at 11:15. Tracy and I – and you — will synthesize what we heard in sessions and in hallways, over drinks, and in comments on the conference app. We’ll be listening for trends, victories, and suggestions. What do you want — new webinars? guidance on new topics? Share the best ARC fashion moments, trivia, and jokes. Surprises are distinctly possible.

We often focus day by day on the details of our work: one student’s path to graduation, one data submission, one sub change proposal. We perfect the stitches, we place each wood block. Today our conference theme would have us widen our vision and look at “the big picture.”

In museums, I’m intrigued by the big picture AND the details, the grand vision and hidden vignettes. What is the history of the woman in the Bina Butler quilt? Appreciate the Ursula von Rydingsvard wood sculpture, and I would contrast it with the Calder mobile, take in the bright blue sky.

Every big picture is composed of many real people. When we say “student completion rate” you know it’s the sum of students, families, and stories. You have a mental picture of the many people you helped to be part of that total.

And that’s how we know that in the big picture higher education makes a difference. The people your institutions teach and subjects you research are vital to our students, communities, culture, and planet. We’re counting on your environmental scientists and clinical psychologists. We also need your urban planners, physical therapists and doctors, artists, and heaven knows your students of communications, international relations, and ethics.

We thank you for equipping students with the ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and research responsibly, to understand and expand the horizons of their fields. And thank you for preparing them to engage in and carry forward our democracy while practicing the arts of civil discourse and respectful engagement.

At best, institutions of higher education are engines of opportunity, mobility, and success for students of every aspiration and background. WSCUC is committed to helping institutions achieve their objectives for diversity, equity, and inclusion, consistent with their missions and their unique students, faculty, staff, program, and communities. The new Standards weave equity and inclusion into all four dimensions of performance. WSCUC asks institutions and leaders to understand their students using an evidence informed approach, to identify determinants of and barriers to student success, and to develop the capacity to design and sustain a systematic process of improvement.

Higher education delivers opportunity, knowledge, degrees, and return on investment for many. But today it is simultaneously desired and flawed, respected and vilified. It is under fire, sometimes with justification, but too often unfairly or to foment division.

Yesterday in this very hotel at the ASU-GSV conference a speaker answered the question, “Is higher education serving learners and the nation?” roughly this way: “No, it is not serving too many of our learners. Completion is stagnant. There’s a growing disconnect between employers and educators. College used to be the stepladder to the American Dream. We had thirty years of court-sanctioned affirmative action and we missed that opportunity. We’ve lost sight of our responsibility to educate citizens. Our students are segregated into social media silos so why should we be surprised they’ve lost the ability to engage with each other on difficult issues. We have a crisis of affordability and accountability.”

The speaker? Ted Mitchell, who as president of the American Council on Education is the chief advocate for American higher education. He’s also the former undersecretary of education and, closer to home, former President of Occidental College and WSCUC Commissioner. That source is vitally important because if higher education can own our successes and but also recognize and correct our flaws, as Ted did, we can secure the performance and respect we seek.

How does accreditation fit into this picture? Once upon a time accreditation was nearly invisible. [Be careful what you wish for.] Now accreditation is potent enough – or easy enough to demonize — that presidential candidates talk about it, and state legislators craft byzantine rules about it. The work we do together remains poorly- or mis-understood. Accreditors’ job includes providing confidence that all accredited institutions offer educations of merit, deliver learning worthy of students’ (and taxpayers’) time and treasure.
In that same conversation ACE President Ted Mitchell was asked the key to accountability. Like the man in the movie The Graduate who gave Benjamin a one word plan for his future – “Plastics” — Ted replied with a single word: Outcomes.”

That should be no surprise here. Outcomes are at the center of our passion for student success, and you have embraced that focus. One way to read our frequent statement that we care about “what, not how” is embodied in our deepening attention on what results your institutions accomplish for your students.

WSCUC is tackling our share of that list of higher ed shortcomings.

  • We’re inviting career thinking into the center, mapping the complementary skills and capacities of a well-conceived college education and the needs of workplaces
  • We welcome innovative models of institutions and offerings.
    • Apprenticeship models are integrating learning and work, and salaries support education, from early childhood education to information technology.
    • WSCUC is open to reinvention along the lines of the College in Three project, which invites deep analysis of the learning goals and outcomes essential to a bachelor’s degrees, and the experiences and time necessary to achieve those goals.

Through all of the changes and challenges, WSCUC concentrates on institutions’ core responsibilities and principles, what I sometimes call the eternal verities. What is our purpose? Whom do we serve? Are we satisfied with the success of our students? If not, what has to change?

Consider the example of evaluation and assessment. People asked how COVID would affect expectations for understanding these core questions, and now some are asking how AI affects assessment. In spring 2020 we turned that around: “What do you want to understand? What have you observed? How do the pieces fit together? And what will you have to decide?” That determines what you want to know and study — in other words, to assess.

The virtues of our unusual US accreditation system seem clear: mission driven; free of political winds; reliant on evidence-informed peer judgment, not bright lines; and adaptable to an infinite variations of schools across the globe. To those who call the peer model mysterious or captive or worse, we need to show its independence and reliability by action and results.
Accreditation needs to meet the moment and the fair critiques. The speed of program and institutional changes and shifting financial conditions demand that we reset our process clocks. We don’t want to be a roadblock to improvement, or slow to call out distress that jeopardizes students. Unfortunately, we’re gaining experience in reducing harm to students in the upheaval when institutions or programs close or reconfigure. Finally, we need to help institutions handle the intense demands on governance and leadership.

Together we are up to the challenges. My last picture is an unfinished puzzle. As with education and accreditation, we can see the patterns in the puzzle and in the work ahead, but we have to complete it to achieve its promise and beauty. Together we can do it. Thank you.