What to know about SJSU’s 2021 WSCUC accreditation review.
More than 36,000 students are enrolled at San José State University. How do we hold ourselves accountable to them and the rest of our community in achieving our mission? The answer starts with SJSU’s commitment to ensuring students succeed and includes an accreditation, which is an independent, third-party evaluation process.
This fall, San José State will begin its next review of our accreditation by the WASC Senior College and University Commission* (WSCUC), the regional accreditation body for universities in California, Hawaii and American territories in the Pacific.
What does WSCUC accreditation mean for SJSU?
Put simply: WSCUC accreditation is our university’s report card of our academic quality and educational effectiveness. In other words: How do we define and assess student learning, and how are we ensuring we are delivering a high quality, effective, equitable and sustainable educational experience?
SJSU’s WSCUC Accreditation Liaison Officer Junelyn Peeples, who is also vice provost for institutional effectiveness and strategic analytics, explained the goal for accreditation “is to help higher education institutions evaluate the efficacy of their educational delivery and its impact on student success.”
Furthermore, WSCUC’s approach to accreditation, she added, “aids institutions in developing and sustaining effective educational programs and assures the educational community and the general public that an accredited institution has met high standards of quality and effectiveness.”
Every regional accrediting body has core competencies that its institutions must uphold, such as oral and written communication, information literacy and quantitative reasoning. WSCUC’s particular set of core competencies has been developed considering what the public would expect a global citizen to look like upon graduating at any given higher education institution.
Accreditation is also periodically reaffirmed by the WSCUC to allow the university to review and reflect on how it’s doing in relation to standards set for the colleges and universities in our region.
Why is it important to SJSU?
“The accreditation process provides us a way to make an evaluation of what we’re doing and determine our direction moving forward: where we’re going to direct our attention, where we’re doing really well, and where we may need to readjust what we’re doing,” said Pam Richardson, professor of occupational therapy and faculty chair of SJSU’s accreditation review committee.
Accreditation is also tied to federal funding and impacts schools and colleges within our university — they would not be able to have accreditation of their professional programs if the university was not accredited.
“WSCUC focuses its attention on how we deliver curriculum and our support services to our students, particularly how students are able to demonstrate their learning,” added Peeples.
“And they do it very collaboratively, so we really engage in the process. For example, if there are major changes in the expectations of what institutions need to deliver, universities are part of the conversation about how to meaningfully focus our attention to make those adjustments.”
“I think [WSCUC] is very forward looking,” said Thalia Anagnos, vice provost for undergraduate education and member of SJSU’s accreditation review steering committee. “They see trends happening at the national level, and then create guidelines to help us stay up-to-date with them. Requiring meaningful assessment practices is a good example of how WSCUC has helped us maintain our accountability to the public and also our own students.”
What is the process of accreditation like for SJSU?
SJSU’s last accreditation reaffirmation was in 2015. Over the last 18 months, SJSU conducted a self study of its activities that involved eight components, including progress on the recommendations from WSCUC’s prior report and follow-up special visit in 2017.
A team of independent evaluators from other universities, including one from another California State University, will review SJSU’s self-study later this fall and then meet with representatives from the university for clarity on any questions they have before they make a campus visit in early spring 2022.
During our site visit, the team of evaluators will meet with the president, provost, chief financial officer as well as students, administrators, faculty and other stakeholder groups from the SJSU community over the course of three days.
The external review team then provides their recommendations about SJSU to WSCUC. WSCUC will determine whether we receive a 10-year or shorter term of accreditation and/or a special visit in a few years, in which case SJSU will work to address any outstanding issues that were noted by the reviewers.
What is important to note about SJSU’s 2021 self study?
As someone who has experience as a peer reviewer for other institutions’ accreditation, Peeples was energized when she reviewed SJSU’s self-study report.
“I’m really proud that San José State has focused on general education, and the work that we’re doing most institutions don’t tackle because it is such a heavy lift to assess, and this is one of the foundational pieces of how we demonstrate our educational effectiveness,” she said.
“We also are taking a holistic, comprehensive advising approach,” which she explains is reflective of our focus on student success.
“The report also does a nice job of linking our Transformation 2030 strategic plan to our initiatives supporting student success,” added Richardson.
SJSU has also worked to address leadership, campus climate as well as social injustice, equity and inclusion, which came up as recommendations in the last self study. Both Richardson and Peeples recognize progress in these areas, but they also acknowledge more work is still needed.
The true measure of San José State’s education as an accredited institution is that students are graduating with a degree for which they can competently identify the skills, knowledge and understanding of that subject matter in a meaningful way, and that they did it in a timely manner.
What else should the SJSU community know about this process?
Of particular note, explained Anagnos, is that this report was put together by several stakeholders at SJSU from every single division and area of the university — including a 25-member, faculty-led accreditation committee.
“Accreditation is really a collaborative effort, and we’ve been working on it for almost two years,” she added. “By having this kind of self reflection and cross-divisional discussion, we learned a lot about each other, and that’s a really important piece of the process.”
Peeples emphasized the opportunity this gives our community to take a step back and assess not only how we help students but also in what ways we may influence the impact our alumni make once they graduate. “As alumni of San José State University and global citizens, they bring something with them to the world that helps change it, and this is our chance to tell that story and how we make it happen.”
SJSU’s self study is available to view online. Coming soon, student, faculty and staff forums will be held for the community to respond and ask questions about the report and the process.
*WASC was created in the early 1960s to “promote the development and accreditation of higher education in the western region of the United States.” Today, WASC accredits public and private higher education institutions throughout California, Hawaii, the Pacific and around the world and is recognized as an accrediting body by the US Department of Education and by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.