Sacramento State will assess value of degree as part of reaccreditation process

State Hornet Staff

Sacramento State is preparing for reaccreditation in 2016 by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges by assessing academic programs and conducting research on what students are taking away from education.

“If you want to have access to federal financial aid funds you need to be accredited,” said Sac State Provost Frederika Harmsen. “It is also useful if you want to have your degrees recognized by other institutions.”

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, or WASC, recognizes schools that meet its research-based criteria outlined in the July 2013 handbook, which grades academic institutions on core competencies and the value attached to a degree.

The most recent version of the handbook calls for assessment in areas that have not been required in the past. The Campus WASC Steering Committee will oversee the project.

“The manual asks that we report on something they have not asked us to report on before, so as a campus, we must agree on how we approach some of those new areas,” said Donald Taylor, associate vice president for Academic Programs and Global Engagement.

Academic Affairs identified humanities and religious studies professor Jackie Donath  as chair for the committee. She will work with Taylor to prepare for the two-part WASC reaccreditation process.

The university self-study will be submitted to WASC summer 2016, prior to the site visit April 2017.

“The WASC team will visit us to see if we are in compliance with all the standards and criteria for review that is embodied in the new WASC handbook,” Taylor said.

Donath has been a WASC commissioner for many years and was part of the process that led to a the new handbook, Taylor said.

“With [Donath] on board we have put together a presentation about all that we need to do between now and April 2017,” Taylor said.

The presentation has been shared with the campus community, including the president and provost, the administrative council, top leaders on campus like deans, vice presidents and associate deans, as well as the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate.

The self-study report submitted to WASC will include an essay on the value of the degree at all levels, Taylor said.

“We have to agree on the meaning and integrity of the degree, then we must prove to WASC that [it] is the degree that we are offering,” Taylor said.

The handbook also calls for students to graduate with a level of five core competencies of which Sac State is required to report on three. The competencies include: written communication, oral communication, critical thinking, information literacy and quantitative reasoning.

“The biggest challenge is that we also have to prepare for a review of university-wide outcomes, baccalaureate learning goals and WASC also requests that every degree is reviewed based on five core competencies,” said Sheree Meyer, associate dean of Undergraduate Studies. “Every student who gets a degree at Sac State should have attained a certain level in those five (areas).”

Sac State is prepared to asses the written communication component with readily available data, but has yet to agree on the other two competencies it will report to WASC.

Each academic program submits a yearly evaluation to the Office of Academic Evaluation headed by sociology Professor Amy Liu, and the data in part will be used to compile the report.  

“WASC wants to make sure that we give our students, the best degree possible in terms of quality of the degree, the educational effectiveness of the degree and they want to make sure we have in place quality control to ensure continuous improvement,” Taylor said.

Other areas of assessment will include general education and what students are taking away from those areas when they graduate, as well as graduate degree programs and what they are contributing to the overall takeaway value for students.

“As the accreditation liaison officer appointed by the president to WASC, I am dedicated and committed to ensuring that Sac State remains an accredited institution,” Taylor said.