Re-accreditation policies considered

Jacob Abbott

Members of the Graduate Studies Policy Committee met last Tuesday morning to discuss a possible framework for graduate learning outcomes, which will show evidence of student learning required for re-accreditation.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges held a retreat Oct. 16-17 on core competencies for universities to begin developing goals of what students can expect to learn while enrolled in graduate programs.

WASC is the accrediting commission responsible for evaluating the quality and effectiveness of colleges and universities offering the bachelor’s degree and higher in California.

Julian Heather, GSPC Chair, attended the meeting in Oakland and said WASC is leaving it up to the universities to decide how they will implement these guidelines.

“The institution can decide what is the best place for learning goals to be articulated,” Heather said. “You can have them at university level campus-wide, at the college level, at the level of a program, just so long as they are articulated and you have a rationale for them at that level, and you have an assessment of those goals occurring.”

Mary Reddick, library representative for GSPC, also attended the WASC meeting and reported to the committee on what its main concerns are.

“What seems most important to them is that you can show evidence of student learning,” Reddick said. “Whatever your learning outcomes are, that you actually have an assessment plan in place. That’s more important than having goals.”

By implementing learning outcomes, the university will provide graduate programs with guidelines of what should be accomplish, and by doing so creating a foundation for program assessment on whether or not the requirements are being met by the institution.

“It’s a precursor,” Heather said. “You can’t produce evidence unless you know what you are producing evidence for.”

Members on the committee also discussed the opportunity to establish a “graduate culture” at Sac State by creating new outcomes distinguishing graduate studies from undergraduate studies.

Jonathan Kaplan, economics representative for GSPC, said the committee is not the first to establish learning outcomes for their graduate programs and can draw from other institutions’ guidelines.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” Kaplan said. “There is so much out there on the Internet and we don’t need to start from scratch.”

WASC requires baccalaureate level programs to meet five general core competencies. These include writing, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, information literacy and oral communication.

Every seven years, programs are reviewed at the undergraduate level. Programs are assessed by external and internal reviewers to make sure programs are meeting goals and student learning outcomes are on track.

Faculty Senate member and communication studies representative for GSPC, Christine Miller, said trying to establish program reviews for these new graduate learning outcomes at Sac State will be difficult.

“We’re going to get some major push back if we say that graduate programs need to go through program review,” Miller said. “Mindfulness of that is figuring out how to craft it. It would be dangerous to propose something like that and get it shot down and that’s evidence of the culture.”

Once GSPC develops guidelines and a plan of action for implementing the learning outcomes, they will send their recommendation to the Faculty Senate to approve before eventually recommending it to the university’s president.

“If we first set up what our programs are doing, then we can look at what other universities are doing in terms of program review,” Kaplan said, “and make those match up the best we can for what works best for our institution.”

GSPC will continue working on the recommendation for graduate learning outcomes at its next meeting on Nov. 4.