Unpacking Accreditation: a look into credits at Puget Sound

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By Keely Coxwell

A look into credits at Puget Sound

“Accreditation is about ensuring an acceptable level of quality.  At a very practical level, being accredited by a recognized accrediting agency is a requirement for an institution to be eligible to participate in federal student financial assistance programs (such as federal loans, federal work-study, and Pell grants),” Martin Jackson, Associate Academic Dean and Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science,  said. “These programs are administered by the United States Department of Education as part of Title IV of the Higher Education Act.  The Department of Education does not accredit institutions directly.  Instead, the Department of Education recognizes (i.e., authorizes) accrediting agencies.”

 

The University’s accreditation was recently reaffirmed by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) this semester. Before this year, the university’s accreditation was evaluated was in 2013, and before that in 2011. Both of those evaluations are on the Puget Sound website.

“Maintaining our accreditation is important as both  a marker of a certain level of quality and for Puget Sound students to take part in federal student financial assistance programs,” Jackson said.

According to the University of Puget Sound website, Jackson is one of the members of the Accreditation Review Committee and this committee oversees accreditation for the university. The other committee members are: Debbie Chee, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life; Kyle Chong, senior; Sue Hannaford, Biology professor; Ellen Peters, Director of Institutional Research and Retention; and Sarah Stall, Associate Editorial Director.

There are five standards the Accreditation Review Committee has to address in their evaluation. Originally the University was going to address all of the standards in their 2017 evaluation but they were asked to do something different this year, according to the NWCCU website. The NWCCU invited Puget Sound (along with Columbia Basin College, University of Montana, and University of Oregon) to take part in a demonstration project instead of the regular evaluation, Jackson said.

“We were asked to focus on defining and evaluating mission fulfillment through the lens of ‘essential student learning outcomes.’ Drawing from the wording of Puget Sound’s mission, we focused on ‘apt expression,’ ‘critical analysis,’ and ‘rich knowledge of self and others,’” Jackson said. “Our demonstration project report describes the many ways in which we gather and use evidence in our efforts to improve.”

“We illustrated this with a number of concrete examples, including the relatively recent revision of first-year seminars in the form of Seminars in Scholarly Inquiry, the introduction of the new Knowledge, Identity, & Power graduation requirement, and the ongoing initiative to expand experiential learning,” Jackson said.

The evaluation outlines all facets of the University, including those Jackson mentioned and more; the evaluation can be found on the Puget Sound website.

According to the Puget Sound website, “a peer evaluation team will visit Puget Sound on April 18 and 19. The team will consist of two colleagues from peer institutions accredited by the NWCCU. During the visit, peer evaluators will meet with various individuals and groups. There will be opportunities for all members of the campus community to converse with the team. A schedule of meetings and forums is currently being developed in collaboration with peer evaluators and will be made available here when finalized.” The report that was submitted was the product of a multi-year process with many people, Jackson said.

One of the standards that needs to be met to be accredited is to publish and follow an effective and clearly stated transfer policy, according to the NWCCU website. “It is not said what our transfer policy needs to be in order to be an accredited institution, just that we [need to] have something that is clear and maintains the integrity of its program while facilitating the efficient mobility of students between institutions,” Brad Tomhave, Registrar, said.

“Our general philosophy on transfer credits can be found in the handbook, but to condense it, it has to do with transferring coursed or credits that are appropriate,”

Tomhave said. “Appropriate would mean, are compatible with the majors and programs that we offer, would be appropriate in a liberal arts setting.” Tomhave outlined what the university looks at when considering whether or not to allow certain credits to transfer. First they looking to the institution which is offering the course, then what the mode of instruction is.

“Is it a regular classroom-based course, or is this some other form of instructions?” Tomhave said. “Our faculty favor lecture or seminar-based instruction so with that in mind they do limit somewhat how much credit they might take for hybrid classes or online classes.”

Then the University looks at the content of the course. “We want to know if someone is taking a course that is similar to something we offer, so we can transfer it as though though you had taken our own,” Tomhave said.

“Then we can apply the general standard. Is this an academic topic that would be appropriate in our academic view as something that could receive elective credit?” Tomhave said. “There [are] some rules to be followed and some judgement to be exercised.”

Emily Santor transferred to Puget Sound from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “When I applied to transfer to UPS, I had around 112 units, but they capped the transfer at 96 — this does make sense to me, even though it was extremely frustrating at the time,” Santor said.

In an interview, Santor said 96 units is equal to 16 credits and the university requires that at least half of your degree is earned in residence at the university to graduate.

“I knew this going in and was willing to live with it,” Santor said.

“What I didn’t know was how they were going to choose which class credits to keep and which to nix. They decided for me, and they chose to keep all my core classes and throw away the work I had done on my Biology major – this meant that upon arrival at UPS, I had to start a major from scratch,” Santor said. “This resulted in me choosing a major that was not Biology because I didn’t feel like it would be a wise decision to attempt to cram that major into three semesters.”

“I totally understand why they did what they did and why this policy exists. I only wish they had asked for my input when it came to deciding which credits to keep and which to lose; I would have chosen to keep the progress on my major,” Santor said. “I am not bitter though! I am graduating with a degree in Religious Studies, and it’s turned out to be a really fascinating experience —especially approaching the material from a scientific background.”

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