University releases accreditation report

The University’s Accreditation Review Committee recently released a draft of the Year-Three Self-Evaluation Report, a necessary step in order to become accredited.  The University is in the third year of a seven-year process to become accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Most institutions of higher education in the U.S. pursue accreditation because this process validates educational quality.  The U.S. Department of Education notes that the lack of a federal authority over post-secondary education affords institutions of higher education a great amount of independence.  Accreditation is a means to maintain educational quality within a diverse system of higher education institutions.

“In order to ensure a basic level of quality, the practice of accreditation arose in the United States as a means of conducting nongovernmental, peer evaluation of educational institutions and programs,” the U.S. Department of Education stated in regard to the need for accredidation.

Beyond upholding educational standards, accreditation serves a number of other functions for higher education.  Accreditation allows institutions to receive federal financial assistance.

Alyce DeMarais, chair of the ARC, explained that accreditation becomes relevant to all components of the University through this bearing on financial matters.

“Accreditation by a regional accrediting agency is required for access to federal funds to support teaching, research and student financial aid,” she said.

The accreditation process necessitates that University faculty and staff become involved in institutional evaluation and planning.  In this way, accreditation lends to “stimulating a general raising of standards among educational institutions,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The accrediting process for Puget Sound, determined by the NWCCU, also focuses on improving educational quality.  In the process of accreditation, the University must address five standards that facilitate institutional evaluation and progress in bettering the quality of education delivered.

The NWCCU confirms the effectiveness of the Five Standards in assessing—and bettering—educational quality.  “The Five Standards for Accreditation are statements that articulate the quality and effectiveness expected of accredited institutions, and collectively they provide a framework for continuous improvement.”

The Year-Three Self Evaluation Report focuses solely on the first and second standards, “Mission, Core Themes, and Expectations,” and “Resources and Capacity.”  A culminating report at the end of the seven-year accreditation process will include the remaining three standards: “Planning and Implementation,” “Effectiveness and Improvement” and “Mission Fulfillment, Adaption, and Sustainability.”

The Mission Statement details the qualities that the University aims to develop in its students and the essential aspects of education that work toward this end.  While much of the University’s mission addresses ideal characteristics of education, these goals are guided by a vision for individuals, which is expressed in the final sentence of the mission statement: “Such an education seeks to liberate each person’s fullest intellectual and human potential to assist in the unfolding of creative and useful lives.”

The Core Themes, another aspect of Standard One, partition the Mission Statement into its main constituents. The University’s Core Themes are Academic Excellence, Rich Knowledge of Self and Others and Engaged Citizenship.

In addition to articulating goals, the report details the way that the University intends to meet these aims, namely practices that must be upheld and standards for the University’s environment.

The Resources and Capacity (Standard Two) section of the report yields an extensive self-assessment of the University’s resources and whether these are sufficient for the University to attain its aims.  To achieve a holistic perspective, the Resources and Capacity section looks into all components of the University’s resources, including Governance, Human Resources, Educational Resources, Student Support Resources, Library and Information Resources, Financial Resources and Physical and Technological Infrastructure.

In order to represent these many components of the institution, the ARC draws from across the campus community to create the Year-Three Report.

Martin Jackson, an Associate Academic Dean and ARC member, explained the process of creating the report.

“The process involves soliciting input from many people across campus, gathering responses into a coherent whole, providing a draft to the campus community for comment, and then producing a final version based on any feedback received,” he said.

Release of the report to the campus community for review is essential in accurately depicting and assessing the University.

DeMarais explained the greater importance of offering the report to the campus community for review.

“The ARC would like to be as inclusive as possible both in the process of writing the report and in the report content.  This report represents Puget Sound and we want to make sure it is truly representative,” she said.

According to DeMarais, there is another reason for releasing the report to the campus community.

“Review of the report also lets everyone on campus know what is going on at Puget Sound.  We have a fantastic college and we want people to know about it,” she said.

While the Year-Three Report is an important marker in the accreditation process, it also provides the campus community insight into the carefully calculated intentions and planning the University has done to offer its students a quality education.