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September 19, 2005

Reaccreditation process served internal, external purposes


By Louise Donahue

UCSC’s multiyear odyssey through the reaccreditation process was more than just an opportunity to showcase UCSC’s strengths to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), according to accreditation liaison officer William Ladusaw.

“I think it allowed us to look seriously at some crucial issues,” said Ladusaw, interim vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.

Begun during Chancellor Greenwood’s administration and culminating in the reaccreditation of the campus in June, the process prompted rethinking about everything from undergraduate retention to fundraising and educational accountability.

Ladusaw noted that the reaccreditation process, which included visits in 2004 and 2005 by a team of eight distinguished academic administrators (see earlier Currents story), provided valuable outside expertise and good advice.

“The process couldn’t have been better,” said Senate chair and psychology professor Faye Crosby, describing it as “therapeutic.” Crosby said Ladusaw focused on making the reaccreditation serve an internal as well as external purpose.

In a June 30 letter to Chancellor Denice D. Denton announcing the reaccreditation, the WASC commission wrote that the process “confirmed the university’s strengths, including high quality students and faculty, an emphasis on undergraduate teaching, a campus in a physically beautiful location, and a residential college system which promotes whole-person learning, all in the context of a major research university environment.”

The strong role of the faculty in the reaccreditation also received special attention.

“The commission's report offered special commendation to the campus for the openness and willingness of the faculty to share, explore, and learn collaboratively about the educational effectiveness of our programs and campus life,” Ladusaw said.

A detailed list of recommendations was made by the Educational Effectiveness Review team in its report and several issues were highlighted in the commission’s letter, including:

• Graduation rate improvements. With 65 percent of students graduating within six years of enrollment, UCSC and UC Riverside have the lowest graduation rate among UC campuses (the UC average is 79 percent). “The commission believes that the University can and should do more to employ further institutional research to better understand and improve its graduation rates,” the letter stated. The commission’s point is  “very valid,” said Ladusaw. ”It is something the campus will be looking at in the coming year. This is something the Senate is also interested in.” Ladusaw explained that the problem at UCSC is mainly a problem of retention in the freshmen and sophomore years, and that the campus has indications the situation is already improving. 

Increasing graduate programs/fundraising. Crosby said the commission’s view was that “UCSC has a fine reputation for undergraduate education, but we can’t rest on our laurels.” The WASC letter urged the campus to consider expanding graduate programs and adding professional schools, an effort that is now moving forward. (See request for proposals.) The commission noted that these changes will require more resources. “The university seems well aware that in order to embark on these programs, it will need significant success with fundraising and grant-seeking,” the commission said. More pointed comments on fundraising were made in the Educational Effectiveness Review, which urged the faculty to be more entrepreneurial in supplementing scarce state funds. “We need to think in new and creative ways,” said Crosby. “To make all of this happen, we need to think outside the funding box.” Crosby said the administration has already taken a step in the right direction by providing up to $45,000 in seed money so those working on the professional schools project can have a lighter course load or get a summer salary enhancement. “It’s not that we have faculty that are averse to taking risks--you need to restructure the system so they won’t hurt their careers,” she said.

• Continuing progress on accountability in student learning. The commission noted the varied ways UCSC assesses student learning and that UCSC is the only UC campus with a senior exit requirement for all students. UCSC’s efforts to move toward more clearly defined learning objectives for each academic program were endorsed. Ladusaw said his “action item” from this part of the review is to get written learning objectives from each campus program.

A progress report on the issues raised in the commission’s letter is due by November 2010, and the first step in the next effort for reaccreditation will be due in 2013.

All four-year colleges and universities in the United States must be reaccredited periodically to earn federal support for student scholarships, loans, and grants. One of six regional associations, WASC reviews educational institutions in California, Guam, and Hawaii. Its recommendations for accreditation are reported to the U.S. Department of Education.

Related links:

• Additional information on the accreditation process is available at planning.ucsc.edu/wasc/

• March 14, 2005, Currents Online: Accreditation committee report submitted to campus

• January 31, 2005, Currents Online: Accreditation committee to meet with administration, faculty

• January 26, 2004, Currents Online: Accreditation team will visit UCSC for review on February 4-6

• February 16, 2002, Currents Online: Accreditation team visits UCSC

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