CSULB confident as WASC reaches 2nd phase

A three-day visit to Cal State Long Beach by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges concluded on March 6, with the campus receiving high marks from the visiting team.

During a 45-minute exit interview with CSULB administration, including President F. King Alexander, the WASC team said it was impressed with how well the campus was organized and run.

A written report of WASC’s findings during the “Capacity and Preparatory Review” visit stage, stage two of the three-part process, is expected within the next two months.

In the meantime the campus community will wait for the report that will be made available to the public by Alexander.

The first step to accreditation, the Institutional Proposal, is essentially a road map for the entire process. The last step, the Educational Effectiveness Review, focuses on CSULB’s core commitment and implementation of “educational effectiveness.”

Doug Robinson, the vice president for student services, said he doesn’t believe accreditation is a formality or a “perfunctory task” for CSULB and that there isn’t anything currently threatening the accreditation.

“During the WASC exit interviews, WASC had a lot of nice things to say about our campus,” Robinson said. However, WASC wants the campus to improve in communicating its learning outcome, he said.

The learning outcome is the assessment of what students can actually achieve by looking at the difference between school objectives, the actual outcome of students and their competencies.

“This is an issue that the university will need to take into consideration in developing an overall plan,” Robinson said in an e-mail.

“[O]ne strategy that will be employed is to send a link [of] the Student Assessment website to students, faculty and staff on an annual basis.”

David Hood, co-chair of the WASC Steering Committee, also dismissed claims that the process is nothing more than a formality.

“It would be very difficult to remove accreditation from this body,” Hood said. “But on the other hand it gives you the opportunity to transfer your units to Harvard if you wanted to. The accreditation process is necessary for federal financial aid.”

It has been over a quarter of a century since CSULB has had any real threat to its accreditation.

CSULB was placed on “warning” in 1982 by a visiting WASC team due to “tensions in university governance,” but the warning was later lifted after subsequent reports over two years were submitted to WASC, according to a WASC visit report in 2002.

The very beginning of the accreditation process starts with the Academic Senate recommending a steering committee to the president, Hood said.

The steering committee is made up of four vice presidents, associate vice presidents, elected members of the Academic Senate executive committee, the president of Associated Students Inc. and the chair of the staff council.

The steering committee’s job is to prepare the proposal for the president’s signature.

“We prepared the proposal and it was a pretty ambitious proposal,” Hood said. “The president made a few adjustments here and there.”

The steering committee chose three areas of core commitments that CSULB will need to look at in order to improve institutional performance: organizing for effectiveness, staffing for effectiveness and assessing student success.

WASC approved CSULB’s institutional proposal in December 2007.

Organizing for Effectiveness

This first “core commitment” is in direct response to the 2002 WASC visit that questioned the effectiveness of a decentralized organizational structure.

“CSULB’s decentralized approach to governance has garnered high levels of trust and acceptance,” the 2002 WASC visiting team’s final report stated. “However, structures that spread program, resource, and assessment responsibility over several councils and committees sometime lack coherence and impede consistent implementation of policies.”

According to the proposal, CSULB hopes that by making more effective decisions at all levels of the university and communicating effectively between the same levels, assessing student learning outcomes will improve dramatically.

Staffing for Effectiveness

This second commitment looks at how CSULB’s personnel policies and practices affect creating the “best possible faculty and staff.”

The proposal cites declining budgets, Southern California’s high cost of living and market competition as chief concerns for developing diverse and dedicated faculty and staff.

Elizabeth Hoffman, a lecturer in the English department, spoke at a March 5 WASC open forum about a need for the campus to address temporary staffing.

“Individual lecturers are very committed to their students,” Hoffman said. “But just the nature of their appointments being temporary, often not knowing if they’re going to be back … it really can impact what happens with the teaching and that’s unfortunate.”

The proposal also acknowledged that faculty, staff and administration are currently not as diverse as the student body — a point that Jose Moreno, an associate professor of Chicano-Latino studies, asked the visiting team to examine at the open forum.

“I don’t know if we’ve quite developed a strategic plan on developing a cultural capacity for our campus,” Moreno said. “I know our report doesn’t speak to that and I do hope you are asking those questions to our leadership.”

Assessing Student Success

The third commitment asks, is learning outcome data collected by the university used to improve student success?

WASC’s 2002 final report praised CSULB for having a “high quality of academic life” for students and staff but questioned the institution’s lack of a “culture of evidence.”

The lack of data which could be used to assess student learning, made it impossible “to draw general conclusions concerning the institution’s educational effectiveness,” according to the report.

The third commitment will evaluate CSULB’s efforts to better analyze student learning outcome data and its implementation of programs based upon the assessment.

During the spring 2007 semester the WASC Implementation Committee, Core Commitment Groups and the WASC Outreach Committee were formed specifically for the review.

The WASC Implementation Committee was formed to oversee and coordinate the Core Commitment groups in their research of the three core commitments.

The implementation committee receives monthly reports from WASC while the steering committee receives more detailed reports about three times a year, Hood said.

The WASC Outreach Committee was responsible for creating WASC awareness events and preparing the community for their visit March 4-6.

Praveen Soni, a member of the WASC Outreach Committee, said this was set up to promote transparency and inclusiveness throughout the accreditation process.

“We’re looking for input at all levels,” Soni said.

This second stage of the accreditation process is compliance-based, Hood said.

“Do you have enough professors in the classroom, enough books in the library?” Hood said. “It is just compliance, ‘Do you have enough?'”

The visiting team from WASC is led by Judith Ramaley, president of Winona State University in Minnesota, and is comprised of members representing many CSU campuses, as well as a representative from Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Many of the same members of the current team will return with a new team in the third stage of the accreditation process, which will be submitted to WASC in summer 2010. The visiting team will be on campus the following Oct. 6-8, 2010.

This will be the next time students will be able to speak with WASC
representatives during the process. An e-mail address was set up during the team’s last visit, encouraging the campus community to comment on the educational experience at CSULB. The address was closed March 6.

“What they’re doing is trying to figure out if the students learn,” Hood said, who is also a history professor. “You see, I can teach until I’m blue in the face, but it doesn’t matter if the students don’t learn.”

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