Accreditation Themes Description of Themes

Description of Themes

Two thematic working groups will address the areas of self-study described in Caltech’s Thematic Pathway for Reaffirmation Proposal: the Core Curriculum, and Academic and Co-Curricular Support Structures 

The Core Curriculum is Caltech’s defining academic experience. Continuous review of Core Curriculum content and assessment of its effectiveness is critical to confirm achievement of desired outcomes. An evaluation of the Core demonstrates Caltech’s commitment to Standard One, “Defining Institutional Purposes and Ensuring Educational Objectives", focuses the community on Standard Two, “Achieving Educational Objectives through Core Functions”, and Standard Four, “Creating an Organization Committed to Quality Assurance, Institutional Learning, and Improvement”. Thorough review and assessment of the Core will be conducted by Caltech’s Institutional Research Office; with longitudinal data from the Registrar’s Office, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach, teaching quality feedback surveys, and the undergraduate deans’ office.

The Core has been revised since the last accreditation cycle with the goal of exposing students to new fields of inquiry, enabling students to complete the Core efficiently, and explore academic areas beyond the Core. The revision decreased math and physics classes; added biology and a “menu course” in a discipline outside of the core, such as introductory astronomy, geology, or information science and technology; and restructured humanities and social sciences requirements to increase student writing and faculty feedback. Review of the Core Curriculum will determine if changes produced positive results, objectives are being met, improvement is needed, the pace of student completion of the Core, community satisfaction with the balance of disciplines, and confirm that the Core is providing a foundation for student success in advanced classes.

Caltech employs mechanisms to continuously evaluate the Core including the Core Curriculum Steering Committee; the Academic Research Committee; the Council on Undergraduate Education; and the bi-annual Student-Faculty Conference, an opportunity for undergraduates and faculty to examine issues of most concern to the community. In 2017, based on previous WASC assessments of the Core, Caltech successfully applied for and received a two-year Association of American Universities (AAU) STEM Education Network Mini-Grant, the Inclusive Caltech Core (IC2). This initiative is designed to improve pedagogy in introductory STEM classes by creating opportunities for faculty to engage with active learning techniques and to learn to make the classroom more inclusive. Faculty and students have shown remarkable enthusiasm for IC2 in its first year, and it has already led to changes in how we deliver and assess Core courses. Data from IC2 will be instrumental in our assessment of the Core.

The Academic and Co-curricular Support Structures theme reflects Caltech’s deepening commitment to the expansion of offices, programs, and initiatives designed to help our community members flourish. A comprehensive examination and evaluation of these structures provides an opportunity to focus on Standard One, “Defining Institutional Purposes and Ensuring Educational Objectives", Standard Two, “Achieving Educational Objectives through Core Functions", Standard Three, “Developing and Applying Resources and Organizational Structures to Ensure Quality and Sustainability”, and Standard Four, “Creating an Organization Committed to Quality Assurance, Institutional Learning, and Improvement”. Thorough review and assessment of support structures will be conducted by Caltech’s Institutional Research Office; with longitudinal data from the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach, the Caltech Center for Diversity, the Hixon Writing Center, Student-Faculty Programs, the Caltech Y, the Graduate Studies Office, and the Dean of Undergraduate Students Office.

Caltech's evaluation will encompass academic and co-curricular support structures. The academic structures include: the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach, the Hixon Writing Center, the Undergraduate Deans' Tutoring Program, the Graduate Dean’s Outreach and Recruitment Office,  the Innovation in Education Fund, and the Freshman Summer Research Institute. The co-curricular structures include: the Caltech Center for Diversity, Student Counseling Services, Student Funds for Special Projects, International Student Programs, and the Caltech Y. This accreditation cycle provides an opportunity to examine developed programs and determine if refinement, further change or improvement is necessary; utilization of support structures; frequency of accession and by whom; if a positive difference exists in support of student success in core academic and research programs. Review of the support structures will identify common objectives, coordination of activities, sharing of information, confirm appropriate resourcing and, assess effective connections of leading professional staff with teaching faculty.

Assessment of Caltech support structures is continuous and the degree of achieved outcome is evaluated by each office or program. The structures are housed in different parts of the Institute and newer offices have only recently aggregated enough data for evaluation. The support structures are ready to take the next step and participate in a coordinated assessment and to devise methods to strengthen their coordination and effectiveness. Many of Caltech’s program directors have earned a PhD or an EdD, and all have expertise in pedagogy, resulting in a rich archive of data from each of the offices to assess. This theme provides an opportunity to bring the data together and determine how well Caltech is responding to the academic and co-curricular needs of our community.