It’s WASC Accreditation Time

California Lutheran University will host five Western Association of Schools and Colleges team members as a part of a continued assessment that accredits the university. WASC accreditation occurs every seven years and involves a process of reports, reviews and visits which takes around two years to complete. The WASC team will visit Cal Lutheran from April 14-16.

According to their website, WASC is one of six regional associations in the United States that accredits public and private schools, colleges and universities. Their purpose is to ensure an institution has the capacity and educational effectiveness to sustain itself. This includes a review of academic programs, graduation rates, faculty and more.

Cal Lutheran President Chris Kimball said in an email interview that accreditation at this capacity is incredibly important. Accreditation is required for all federal funds and for the acceptance of degrees for transfer or graduate admissions. It’s also important because it’s a third-party endorsement of Cal Lutheran’s programs and organizations.

“Earning such accreditation provides concrete evidence to prospective students, faculty, donors and foundations that award grants that we are doing our jobs right,” Kimball said.

President Kimball described the reviews as a system of checks and balances.

“It ensures we are doing everything we can to ensure positive outcomes for our students,” Kimball said.

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Leanne Neilson said the WASC visits are a positive experience because they are peer-reviewed, meaning executives and faculty from other universities make up the WASC visiting team. Neilson said she believes the peer-review system works the best.

According to Neilson, the WASC team will not visit classrooms but will follow a very detailed schedule. They will meet with various groups on campus such as the Board of Regents, vice presidents, deans, faculty and program reviews.

“It’s nice because these people [WASC visitors] are running universities themselves. They know how things work. It’s not like someone is coming from an accrediting office who is disconnected from a school,” Neilson said.

Neilson said she has experience as a WASC reviewer and has done so for other universities a half-a-dozen times.

“It’s a service to the profession, to higher education. I learn so much from going to other schools and hear how they’re doing things, how they’re struggling and overcome things,” Neilson said.

Neilson said the WASC team has specific areas which they will focus on during their visit. These include a review of the academic programs, reviews of Cal Lutheran’s various off-campus locations, the role of the Board of Regents, financial stability and faculty. Their biggest concern is retention and graduation rates of the university.

Vice President of Enrollment Management and Marketing Matt Ward said in an email interview that Cal Lutheran is prepared for the WASC visits.

“We are by no means perfect and can always improve, but that’s why it is so important for institutions to go through this process every few years. It allows for a healthy, critical review by leaders in higher education,” Ward said.

He said he believes the school have a community dedicated to continuous improvement, and the reviewers will see that.

“The process engenders a rigorous evaluation of how Cal Lutheran conducts business, especially as it relates to student learning outcomes,” Ward said.

However the WASC accreditation process does not begin with these visits. According to the WASC schedule, the process began in April of 2014 when a variety of annual financial reports and graduation reports were due. From June-Sept. 2014 the Institution Report was due to the WASC staff.

Neilson said Cal Lutheran turned in nine required essays to WASC in September. This was followed by a December 2014 conference that reviewed the submitted information. Eight weeks before their visit, the report from the review is given. After all has been completed, planning for WASC visits begins.

Cal Lutheran last received re-accreditation in 2007. According to the final report by President and Executive Director of WASC Ralph Wolff, the university was praised for its diversity, quality of graduate programs and assessment of student learning.

Final word of accreditation will take place between July 2015 and March 2016.

Mary Callaway
Staff Writer
Published March 25th, 2015