• WSCUC Newsletter: November 2020

    November 23, 2020 - WSCUC

Table of Contents


Letter from President Studley

Like you, we at WSCUC are doing our best to sustain our equilibrium and services as the pandemic lingers and deepens, looking ahead to vaccines while focusing on what matters for student success and institutional support.

The agenda of the recent Commission retreat is a good window into top WSCUC priorities.

  • We confirmed WSCUC’s belief that quality and equity are inextricably linked, and the Commission explored what it looks like to put equity front and center across our work, with the help of our special guest Dr. Lande Ajose, senior advisor to CA Gov. Newsom for higher education, and facilitator Dr. Edward Junkins, Sr. Associate Dean, Western University of Heath Sciences. Chair Phil Doolittle and the Commission are developing goals and actions for current and new DEI work.
  • Using strong student success outcome measures is a key part of our “Better Conversations, Better Data” initiative. The Commission gave the green light to the next stage in that work, our peer benchmarking pilot designed to provide context and depth to inquiry within institutions and throughout WSCUC reviews. See below and here for more on this.
  • The Commission discussed the financial effects of the pandemic on students, public and private institutions, and continued exploring how to anticipate sustainability challenges so WSCUC can help institutions and their leadership plan and prepare, assure accountability, and protect students.

With thanks to all of you who completed it, our Fall Survey 2020 gives us a fresh picture of the challenges and adaptations for students and institutions. Supporting students with advising, technology, financial and basic needs, and mental health services was intense. Institutions helped faculty retool course delivery and technology, and captured observations to help with longer term learning evaluation and improvement. Interestingly the enrollment picture revealed only a small decline in total enrollment across the region, with reporting institutions split between increased and decreased enrollment. WSCUC will continue to track how we can help institutions maintain quality programs. One of the top tools is Right to the Point, our new educational program series custom tailored to the topics you told us you wanted, and it’s setting attendance records.

We look to the new federal administration for leadership on crucial issues of health, higher education, DEI, international and science policy, and the economy that affect students and institutions. WSCUC’s strides in highlighting student success outcomes and disaggregated measures, promoting equity and transparency, and active monitoring all fit with expected priorities, and we look forward to engaging with new leaders about programs and policy.

As we look ahead, please help WSCUC identify excellent candidates for new commissioners. Priorities in this cycle are people with significant experience in DEI work; in finance and business; and who would further add to the diversity of commission members in race/ethnicity, disability status, geography, and institutional mission and scale. Nominations are due by December 31; more info and the simple form to nominate yourself or others are here.

We congratulate recent WSCUC Commissioner and CSU Fresno President Joseph Castro enthusiastically on his selection as Chancellor of the CSU System, and express our deep respect and appreciation to outgoing Chancellor Tim White, also a former WSCUC Commissioner.

And a trio of staff congratulations: John Hausaman is now Assistant Vice President for Substantive Change. David Chase, head of educational programming, successfully defended his dissertation and has two new titles: Dr. and Vice President. And VP Tamela Hawley was elected to the Liberty Union High School Board.

All of us at WSCUC wish you — and your campus and family — good health, satisfaction, peace, and much for which to be thankful.

Jamie Studley


Commission Policy Updates

The Commission approved five revised policies during its November meeting. Three policies were revised based on changes in federal regulations as of July 1, 2020 and comments from the membership. One policy was revised solely to reflect changes in the federal regulations. One policy was renamed. Click the links below to learn more about each policy. Contact WSCUC Vice President Barbara Gross Davis with any questions.

Credit Hour Policy

The Credit Hour Policy was scheduled to be revised in 2018, but work was halted when it became apparent that credit hour would be a topic for federal negotiated rulemaking. The new regulations revise the federal definition of credit hour and require accrediting agencies only to approve an institution’s definition. WSCUC in the past has reviewed an institution’s credit hour policy, processes, and procedures. The Commission decided to continue this practice, while emphasizing measurement of student learning and academic engagement, not “seat time,” and being open to innovative approaches to understanding student work and engagement. The Credit Hour Policy has been revised to reflect the new federal definition of credit hour and to clarify how an institution’s credit hour policy and procedures will be reviewed.

Teach-Out Plans and Agreements Policy and Teach-Out Plans and Agreements Guide

In February 2019, the Teach-Out Plans and Agreements Policy was revised, and the companion Guide was created. With the recent changes to federal regulations, the policy and guide have been revised to:

  • Expand the circumstances that trigger a teach-out plan (e.g., achieving Candidacy; appearing on the Heightened Cash Monitoring list; being placed on probation or show cause);
  • Establish the requirements for teach-out plans (e.g., notifying students about Closed School Discharge of Federal Loans; describing the records retention plan);
  • Clarify the characteristics that make an institution suitable or unsuitable to serve as a teach-out receiving institution.

In addition to regulatory changes, the Commission added another circumstance that may trigger a teach-out plan if “an institution lacks sufficient resources to operate in accordance with the Commission’s Standards or any time it determines that a teach-out plan is appropriate to safeguard the interests of students.”

The Commission has also added its expectations that institutions submitting teach-out plans will:

  • Report arrangements they have made to fund expenses that commonly arise at closure (e.g., arranging transcript protection; advising services; communicating to students about their options);
  • Provide students with their academic records even if they have outstanding balances due to the institution.

Substantive Change Policy

This policy has been extensively revised to conform to new federal regulations, to increase transparency, to clarify practices and protocols, and to incorporate feedback from the membership. Changes include:

  • Expanding the circumstances that trigger a substantive change (e.g., launching a direct assessment program; changing the measurement of student progress such as converting from the quarter to the semester system);
  • Specifying additional requirements for structural change proposals, including analysis and evaluation of student success outcomes;
  • Clarifying what is not considered a substantive change;
  • Providing examples of staff reviews of “routine” substantive changes;
  • Identifying conditions that trigger additional types of reviews;
  • Describing in more detail substantive change procedures for each type of change: new programs and adjustments to existing programs; changes to organizational structure including mission, ownership, legal status or control; and requests for off-campus locations;
  • Updating the definitions of off-campus locations.

WSCUC also sought comments on a possible new category of substantive change relating to outsourcing and agreements with third parties. The Commission will continue its consideration of this topic.

Transfer of Credit Policy

This policy was revised and approved by the Commission in June 2019. It has been updated to include information mandated as part of the new federal regulations. The new information requires institutions to make available the criteria used to evaluate and award credit for prior learning experience such as service in the military, paid or unpaid employment, or other demonstrated competency. Because adding this information is a federal requirement and cannot be changed based on feedback from the membership, this policy is not being distributed for comments.

Notice to U.S. Department of Education of Required Information

This policy was formerly named “Notice of Changes in Scope of Recognition Policy.” The body of the policy addresses more than scope and includes notifying the Secretary about any information that might affect the agency’s ability to meet federal standards, as well as reporting institutions abusing Title IV. The Commission has renamed the policy to “Notice to U.S. Department of Education of Required Information” to more accurately reflect the content.


WSCUC Announces Peer Benchmarking Pilot Project

In our drive to promote student success through “better conversations, better data,” WSCUC is adding a new approach to peer benchmarking, the next 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 use by 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 in 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.


Educational Programming Updates

WSCUC created Right to the Point – a series of webinars addressing the complexities of our current reality and meeting challenges in practical and effective ways. Experts from WSCUC institutions are providing programs inspired by ideas and responses to WSCUC queries about what’s most important at this time.

Mark your calendar and join us for our December presentations:

All webinars were recorded – listen at your convenience:

A special thanks to President Studley for making it possible for us to offer these webinars free of charge to member institutions.

The 2021 ARC: SAVE April 28-30

Planning is underway for April’s ARC – WSCUC’s annual meeting and conference. We are anticipating and developing a virtual conference this year to continue the spirit of Right to the Point with direct and valuable sessions and programming.

We’ll hear from WSCUC leaders, including new Commission Chair Phil Doolittle, and other provocative thinkers, and offer formats to maximize information and knowledge exchange. Let us know how you would like to network and interact with colleagues you likely haven’t seen in a while! We will occupy our planned ARC dates – April 28 – 30, 2021 – and we’ll be back in touch with news and notes about the conference.

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


Remote Visit Webinars for ALOs and Teams

Accreditation visits for spring 2021 will be conducted remotely. Over the past several months we have learned a lot about the most effective ways to conduct remote reviews and offered webinars to ALOs and team members to support those efforts. We have posted those webinars, along with the PowerPoints and Tips for ALOs and for teams. The next series of training webinars will be offered January 11-14 – if you will be participating in spring reviews watch for an invitation.


Staff Updates

David Chase, who has served as Associate Vice President since 2017, earned his EdD in Educational Administration and Leadership from the University of the Pacific and has been promoted to Vice President, Educational Programming.

John Hausaman, who has directed WSCUC’s Substantive Change team since 2016, has been promoted to Assistant Vice President, Substantive Change. John works with the three peer review committees on Substantive Change, Interim Reports, and Eligibility and the Commission Structural Change Committee.

Vice President Tamela Hawley was elected to the Board of Education of Liberty Union High School in East Contra Costa County, serving the cities of Brentwood, Oakley, Knightsen, Discovery Bay, and Byron.


WSCUC Commission Calendar

  • Commission Meeting (Remote)
    February 17-19, 2021 (Public Session, February 19)
  • Commission Meeting
    June 23-25, 2021 (Public Session, June 25)
  • Commission Meeting
    November 3-5, 2021