• WSCUC Newsletter: March 2021

    March 29, 2021 - WSCUC

Table of Contents


Change, Accreditation & Hope: President’s Letter

Reminders of how our world changed a year ago are everywhere. Friday, March 13, 2020 was the day Breonna Taylor was killed, and George Floyd two months later. January 6 was two months ago. The head spins. Higher education has a profound responsibility to absorb, understand, and address the causes, complex intersections, and collective and individual solutions to the challenges reflected in these few short sentences.

From where I sit, I see how hard institutions are working to support students and to sustain their missions. With everything they are doing to transition program delivery and student services, many are also helping deliver vaccinations to their communities.

WSCUC aims to help by sharing good ideas, surveying practices, and generally continuing our core quality assurance and improvement work. With your cooperation, we are maintaining a full schedule of remote institutional reviews and supporting members’ many questions and changes.

  • We know institutions are making plans for fall semester. WSCUC encourages you to pursue your planning with whatever mix of delivery models seems appropriate given your reading of the pandemic-driven health situation and education effectiveness. WSCUC is developing a simple continued waiver process to allow institutions to affirm that they are maintaining standards generally during this emergency while adapting practices as necessary. We expect to post the contours of that process by March 31 in a letter to ALOs and on the COVID section of our website. Institutions that seek to add distance learning programs on a permanent basis should consult the WSCUC substantive change provisions and application process.
  • WSCUC has retired the Graduation Rate Dashboard (GRD), Mid Cycle Review (MCR) and Inventory of Educational Effectiveness Indicators (IEEI) as we have moved to sharpen our data and review processes. Our intent is to increase our ability to track changes that may affect institutional performance or stability while reducing reporting burdens on schools. The GRD, developed by John Etchemendy, then provost at Stanford, and WSCUC staff, was a valuable tool for tracking all students at a time when IPEDS covered only first time/full time college students. With the expansion of IPEDS coverage, the Commission determined to retire the GRD and focus on new, more universal, and less cumbersome student outcomes indicators. In addition, the Commission eliminated the Mid-Cycle Review in favor of a regular internal Annual Integrated Monitoring (AIM) process, and retired the Inventory of Educational Effectiveness Indicators (IEEI). See explanations of these changes later in this newsletter.

​​​​We’re committed to moving our most important initiatives along.

  • Equity & Inclusion Council: Chair Phil Doolittle created this new Commission entity in February to reflect the centrality of equity and inclusion work across WSCUC. The Council will help prioritize and coordinate our E&I goals and activities with the Executive Committee and across the standing committees that have lead responsibility for each area. It is led by Commission Vice Chair Tracy Poon Tambascia (USC), and composed of the vice chairs of WSCUC’s standing committees and two Executive Committee members. Expect more news on this significant subject soon.
  • Standards Review: WSCUC is moving ahead in the important work of reviewing our accreditation Standards to reflect contemporary expectations for student success, equity and inclusion, governance, and institutional capacity and improvement. This project is under the leadership of Commissioners Leanne Neilson (California Lutheran) and Sharon Hamill (CSU San Marcos). This year many of you shared valuable initial thoughts with us, including at ARC and the CEO-Trustee Forum. WSCUC will invite further comment from institutions as well as other stakeholders (including students, policy makers, and business) on directions for revision, and then later will ask for comment on draft revisions of the Standards. Your views will be vital to crafting wise and enduring Standards, so please watch for invitations to engage with the review.
  • Educational Programs: Please join us for ARC2021: Making It Real, April 28-30, featuring concentrated learning sessions and big ideas: Where WSCUC is Headed, Why and How; the national higher education and policy scene (with new US Assistant Secretary for Higher Education Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper), and a set of vivid voices to challenge and inspire.We’ve had a great year of reinvented programs for 3600 registrants. See the news below about the Right to the Point series (recordings are available on our website), CEO & Trustee Forum, State of the Community, and the Assessment Leadership Academy, plus institutional and team reviews trainings.
  • National & International Scope: WSCUC decided a year ago to be the first regional accreditor to accept applications from US institutions beyond our historic region, with special interest in those with ties to existing accredited institutions that are dedicated to advancing equity and inclusion, evidence-driven approaches to student success, and innovation. And since WSCUC reopened international accreditation in 2019 (committee co-chairs Fernando Leon Garcia, CETYS and Andrew Wallis, Whittier College), institutions from Mexico to Qatar have begun the process. These changes create opportunities to deepen our community’s global interchange around shared values and quality improvement.

We never expected the year we have experienced, but we have all “kept (fairly) calm and carried on.” Students and institutions, faculty and staff, WSCUC volunteers and staff, have adapted, collaborated, learned, adapted again, and stayed true to our purposes. And so – an anniversary toast to education, to resilience, and to hope for the future!


Commission Policy Changes: Opportunity to Comment

WSCUC is seeking public comments on proposed changes to two policies affected by changes in federal regulations that took effect on July 1, 2020. Click the links below for more information about each policy. Please send comments to policies@wscuc.org by May 21, 2021. Revised policies reflecting comments will be reviewed and considered for adoption by the Commission in June 2021.

Sharing Information with Other Agencies and Regard for their Decisions

This policy has been revised to incorporate new federal regulations; to clarify the information from other agencies that would lead the Commission to not grant candidacy or accreditation; to describe how the Commission takes into account the decisions of other agencies; and to state institutional responsibilities for disclosing negative or adverse actions of other accrediting agencies.

Staff contact: Barbara Gross Davis

Public Disclosure of Accreditation Documents and Commission Actions

This policy has been revised to reflect the new federal timeframe for notifications regarding Commission actions to clarify the information provided to government agencies and the public about sanctions and adverse actions, and to describe what institutions are required to post on their websites when the Commission imposes a sanction or takes an adverse action.

Staff contact: Barbara Gross Davis


New Peer Benchmarking Data Pilot Project

As WSCUC promotes student success through “better conversations, better data,” we are adding a new approach to peer benchmarking. This initiative is our latest step in establishing consistent uses of evidence and outcomes data to drive institutional improvement, equity, and results. With the support of the Lumina Foundation, we are expanding data structures, metrics, and training for institutions, review teams, commissioners, and staff liaisons to promote thoughtful and rigorous data analysis as part of the comprehensive accreditation review.

As part of this process WSCUC has developed a methodology to identify national peer groups across WSCUC institutions, along with methods to use these peer groups as part of a benchmarking pilot process. The peer benchmarking pilot will initially focus on a large set of WSCUC accredited institutions – institutions with undergraduate programs that also report to IPEDS and are classified as part of the Carnegie Classification System.

We emphasize that our goal is to put performance in context and assure that WSCUC Standards are being met, not to create bright lines. Peer benchmarking is not intended to create floors, ceilings, or thresholds, but rather to provide a consistent way for WSCUC to look across institutional performance in context. Peer benchmarking will complement existing institutional data and peer sets, and promote conversations around improvement and undergraduate outcomes, with a focus on equitable results and elimination of achievement gaps. Peer benchmarking is not intended to create high stakes consequences, but rather to add value and transformative insights. WSCUC’s peer benchmarking project is in a pilot phase and the information will become part of the Key Indicators (KI) Reports to enrich institution, review team, and Commission conversations. A more detailed explanation of the peer benchmarking process is available here. Institutions included during the pilot stage will have an opportunity to review their own peers and peer benchmarking charts, to ask questions and discuss peers. After each institution has had this opportunity for review, the information will become part of the materials for review teams, beginning with Spring 2021 reviews. For questions, please contact the WSCUC data team at data@wscuc.org.


Important Notifications: Simplified Review Practices

Graduation Rate Dashboard Retired

The Graduation Rate Dashboard (GRD) contributed usefully to generating a full picture of institutions’ graduation performance, and reinforced WSCUC’s role as an innovator in analyzing student outcomes and developing data tools. The GRD was introduced to the region in 2013 to measure undergraduate retention and graduation rates as one element of a comprehensive analysis of student success conducted during the institutional accreditation review process. The methodology addressed shortcomings in federal data by accounting for all graduates regardless of how they matriculated (first-time or transfer, lower or upper division) or enrolled (part-time, full-time, swirling) or what programs they pursued. The GRD provided metrics for unit accumulation, redemption, and abandonment patterns of undergraduate students at the institutional level.

Since then, challenges have surfaced in collecting and using GRD data. Reporting was burdensome for institutions; it required extensive WSCUC staff time to verify information; and the data were difficult to interpret when enrollments fluctuated. In addition, IPEDS has evolved to now track transfer and part-time students as well as first time students. Finally, WSCUC has developed new and more helpful Key Indicator reports that provide detailed information about institutions in the areas of student completion, student finances, post-graduation outcomes, institutional finances, and institution size and context. For all these reasons, the Commission decided in December 2020 to retire the GRD while maintaining WSCUC’s commitment to effective use of meaningful evidence.

Mid-Cycle Review Transitions to Annual Integrated Monitoring

WSCUC made recent changes to sharpen the use of outcomes data and to move to an annual internal review process that replaces the Mid-Cycle Review. This set of changes increases our ability to track and follow up on information that may affect institutional performance or stability. The Mid-Cycle Review has been conducted at the mid-point in each institution’s accreditation review cycle to satisfy federal regulations requiring assurance that WSCUC could “identify problems with an institution’s …. continued compliance with agency standards….” These reviews have been useful to both the Commission in monitoring institutions’ progress and to institutional leadership in the form of feedback to support continuous improvement and preparation for the next accreditation review.

Building on this experience, the Commission decided in December 2020 to eliminate the MCR and move to an annual review that also complies with federal requirements while providing a fresher look. WSCUC has implemented our Annual Integrated Monitoring (AIM) process, conducted by staff and focusing on monitoring institutions for indications of current risks or trends that deserve further attention or may prove to be problematic in the future. There are no bright lines for the factors; they are used in context to identify trends, questions, and areas for clarification or additional inquiry. Institutions are not required to submit anything other than their regular Annual Report for this purpose. Institutions will only be contacted by WSCUC staff if additional information is required or an issue is identified for follow up.

Inventory of Educational Effectiveness Indicators (IEEI) Retired

The Commission has determined that institutions are no longer required to complete the Inventory of Educational Effectiveness Indicators (IEEI). Developed in 2013, it was used by WSCUC to understand an institution’s progress in developing student learning outcomes, creating a process for assessment, and establishing program review procedures. Because it was process, not outcomes-oriented, considered of limited value as structured, and burdensome to some institutions, the Commission has retired the IEEI. Institutions no longer need to submit the IEEI for initial accreditation, reaffirmation of accreditation, or any other required interaction with WSCUC. Going forward, institutions will be expected to present evidence in institutional reports of the results of assessment processes and the outcomes of program reviews. Institutions are welcome to use or adapt the IEEI for their own internal purposes.


Register Now: ARC2021 April 28-30 + Educational Programs

ARC2021, reprising the theme Making It Real, will continue our strong tradition online April 28 – 30. Please register HERE. We look forward to seeing you at the ARC!

Since March 2020 WSCUC’s Educational Programs team, with the help of the staff of the agency, made the switch with the entire higher education community to online interaction. We produced 18 online events garnering 3,641 registrations and conducted the 11th Cohort of the Assessment Leadership Academy.

Content inspired by the ARC2020 Theme Making It Real was accompanied by a new series designed and informed by a survey of the needs of the membership called Right to the Point.

Professional development and training for peer reviewers continued online. We provided trainings for all types of visits and familiarized institutions undergoing reviews with the remote review process. We also held sessions for US and international institutions seeking accreditation.

WSCUC’s Educational Programs also successfully welcomed the 11th Cohort of the Assessment Leadership Academy (usually conducted with three multiday onsite sessions) to a curriculum delivered fully online. All participants who started in June 2020 have completed the program and join the nearly 400 alumni. Planning for future Leadership Academy offerings and alumni/ae activities is underway.

WSCUC designed and delivered an online workshop in partnership with the Higher Learning Commission, a new Seminar on Integrating Teaching, Learning, & Assessment, February 25 – March 4.

For more about WSCUC’s Educational Programs, contact David Chase.


Invitation to ALO Forum

Each year during the ARC, WSCUC hosts the ALO Forum. This year’s session will cover “What’s New” at WSCUC and in accreditation. Five experienced ALOs will explore “Lessons Learned During the Pandemic” and how that will affect their planning and practice in the future. ALOs will receive an email from WSCUC with the link to sign up for the Forum.