Our Commitment to Equity & Inclusion
WSCUC strives to advance quality education and equitable student success. WSCUC stands for equity, inclusion, and social justice, and is committed to meaningful and systemic change that serves and benefits all students.
WSCUC has expressed this commitment in many ways, from its first diversity policy in 1994 and successor Equity and Inclusion Policy (2017) to pioneering work in the use of disaggregated student data. On June 4, 2020 WSCUC issued “George Floyd and Accreditation,” a call to reflection and action by WSCUC and higher education. And in February 2021 WSCUC created a strong Equity & Inclusion Council to drive its efforts.
As an accreditor, WSCUC demonstrates its commitment to eradicating structural bias—and to using higher education to foster a more just and inclusive society—by helping institutions promote and achieve equitable student success outcomes through system change and inclusive policies and practices. WSCUC continuously reshapes its own improvement and accountability priorities and actions to support this work.
How the Pandemics of Social Injustices and COVID-19 Can Lead to Transformation
Our nation must confront the devastating impact of centuries of pervasive racism, injustice, and economic inequality. These deeply embedded issues have been thrust anew into the public consciousness. The dying exclamation “I can’t breathe” echoes the many ways in which fair treatment, opportunity, and full participation have been choked off from vast parts of the American population. The harms long suffered by marginalized and disenfranchised individuals and communities are in plain sight. The convergence of systemic racism and the pandemic brought racial, socioeconomic, and many other inequalities to the fore nationally and in the higher education community. Conditions of intolerance, exclusion, violence, and poverty that have sapped the life and energy of generations amplified the deleterious impacts of COVID-19.
Supporting equity for college students encountering deep-rooted realities of economic hardship and racial bias seemed difficult enough in more stable times, even with institutional supports and a community of students, staff, and faculty for interaction and engagement. The pandemic was particularly disruptive for students on commuter and residential campuses who had to leave or suspend their learning. Many faced emergency needs for food and shelter, Wi-Fi access and laptops, childcare and mental health services, that institutions could not fully meet. The academic journeys of many students were slowed, deferred or ended.
From Response to Re-evaluation of the Future
Epic times require equally sweeping solutions for students and the environments in which they live and learn. Achieving desirable student outcomes and inclusive success will require unprecedented leadership, commitment, and effort from higher education institutions and the accreditation, federal, state, and philanthropic organizations that support them. Just as individual institutions must address equity in a comprehensive and courageous manner, so must their accrediting bodies support institutions striving to advance equity and inclusion. Together we need to assure institutional equity in learning outcomes and postgraduate success. To achieve that we must commit the skill and will to seriously engage the underlying causes of inequities, interrogating admission and hiring criteria, where students live and how they get to school, the wealth gaps that leave some unable to weather emergencies, and disparities in guidance, networks and social capital. When unique events present opportunities to make meaningful changes, educators and policymakers should act boldly and comprehensively in creating the education and economic conditions that advance equity.
We at WSCUC, as at institutions and other accrediting bodies, face transformational challenges. Fortunately we have strong tools. Grounded in standards, metrics, and peer expertise, accreditation review reaches every level of institutional activity, where we can assess institutional effectiveness and learning outcomes and promote equity-driven improvement.
WSCUC’s Commitments to Equity, Inclusion and Action
We affirm that WSCUC has an essential and influential role to play in ensuring that institutions provide an equitable and inclusive educational experience for every student. Accrediting bodies can add value and have lasting impact by:
- Generating evidence to ground our analysis of equitable student success, and continuing to pioneer disaggregated data to analyze outcomes and drive improvement
- Affirming successful practices of institutions through the accrediting and review process
- Collaborating with institutions, other accrediting bodies, and appropriate organizations to share strategies and advance shared goals
- Leading by example within the accrediting body and through the review process, and
- Making difficult decisions, when necessary, to advance equity for all students across the institutions that are being reviewed.
While the current environment mandates immediate and forceful action, this must be a constant and ever-evolving initiative, for WSCUC as for the nation. The effort is not time-limited; advancing equity and excellence in education requires sustained commitment and often transformation. We must always be willing to ask hard questions, insist on necessary change, press for clear results, and never settle for anything less than creating and sustaining educational environments in which every individual can thrive.
Adopted by the Commission June 25, 2021