Caltech Accreditation

Background

The Higher Education Act of 1965 issued new criteria for determining the quality of post-secondary education and eligibility to participate in programs administered by Federal agencies. (www.tgslc.org/pdf/HEA_Title_IV_Oct02.pdf, p. 145-150)

The U.S. Department of Education provides oversight and evaluation of formal accreditation processes. The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. Most institutions attain eligibility to apply for Federal funds by holding accredited status with one of the accrediting agencies recognized by the Secretary of Education. (www.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation_pg3.html) In addition to Federal agencies, foundations and other sources of private funding tend to follow suit by requiring that funds be spent at an "accredited" institution.

The accreditation process itself has continued to evolve with the current emphasis being to define educational objectives and learning outcomes, to show how the institution meets its goals by having assessment mechanisms in place, and to add value to and improve educational programs in the process.

WASC Accreditation Process

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) is one of six recognized regional associations that accredit public and private schools, colleges, and universities in the United States. The accreditation review process is based on large part on a self-assessment and involves an institutional presentation developed in three stages:

Stage 1: The Institutional Proposal (submitted May 2006, revised version was approved October 25)

Primary purpose: To guide the entire accreditation review process by describing the institution's most important features, and the most important issues that it wishes to address. It defines specific goals and outcomes for the accreditation review in light of issues arising from the institution's own planning and development processes and emerging from the institution's examination of itself under the new accreditation Standards, as well as specific issues raised by the Commission as a result of the last institutional review.

Stage 2: The Preparatory Review (Report due August 27, 2008, site visit and evaluation November 19-21, 2008)

Primary purpose: To demonstrate that the institution fulfills the Core Commitment to Institutional Capacity: The institution functions with clear purposes, high levels of institutional integrity, fiscal stability, and organizational structures and process to fulfill its purposes.

  1. Audit and verify the information provided in the Institutional Presentation, and to assure that the data presented fairly and accurately portray the state of the institution at the time of the review.
  2. Evaluate key institutional resources, structures, and processes in the light of the Commission's standard to assure that the institution operates at or above a threshold levels acceptable for accreditation (or candidacy) and, where appropriate, to identify any capacity-related issues that need to be carried forward in the Educational Effectiveness Review.
  3. Assess the institution's preparedness to undertake the Educational Effectiveness Review as proposed, and to assist the institution in refining its focus and plan for that review.

The commission will prepare a report of issues that need to be addressed in the final Educational Effectiveness Review.

Stage 3: The Educational Effectiveness Review (Report due January 10, 2010, site visit and evaluation March 24-26, 2010)

Primary Purpose: To demonstrate sustained engagement by the institution on the extent to which the institution fulfills or improves upon its educational objectives: The institution evidences clear and appropriate educational objectives and design at the institutional and program levels, and employs processes of review, including the collection and use of data, that assures the delivery of programs and learner accomplishments at a level of performance appropriate for the degree or certification awarded.

  1. To review the design and results of institutional efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of educational programs;
  2. To examine institutional practices for evaluating student learning and to develop and share good practices in using educational results to improve the process of teaching and learning;
  3. To examine the alignment of institutional resources with activities designed to achieve the institution's educational objectives; and
  4. To promote sustained engagement with selected issues of Educational Effectiveness consistent with Commission Standards. These will have already been identified by the institution and approved through the Proposal Review Process.

The cycle of review is intended to be a maximum of ten years, providing institutions a three-year period to complete the process of self review and external evaluation, followed by an extended period of time for sustaining initiatives and recommendations resulting from this process. If accreditation requirements are not satisfied during the review period, additional reporting and reviews are required.

More information:

Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities

WASC Handbook for Accreditation (137 pages)

Theme Areas of FocusFor the 2008-2009 review, Caltech is focusing on three areas:

The Honor System
Undergraduate Research
Core Curriculum

WASC requires our report to include data on a myriad of topics outside our primary themes, such as due process and grievance procedures, diversity, conflict of interest, patent provisions, human and animal subject procedures, technology transfer, clarity of program requirements, policies on teaching assistants, library collection development, student retention, Institute budget, cash management, investments, and risk management. The three theme areas require extensive narrative reporting beginning with stated objectives, evidence collection and assessment, and concluding by detailing specific outcomes accomplished. Accreditation since 2001 is now a three-step process with two site visits, rather than a one-step process. Our Institute Proposal, posted at http://accreditation.caltech.edu/news/ was approved fall of 2006, after making revisions to the initial version as required by WASC. In addition, we need to make reference to the four WASC standards.

These are:

  1. Defining Institutional Purposes and Ensuring Educational Objectives
  2. Achieving Educational Objectives Through Core Functions
  3. Developing and Applying Resources and Organizational Structures to Ensure Sustainability
  4. Creating an Organization Committed to Learning and Improvement

Each of these standards includes multiple sub-standards that need to be applied.