Whitman’s mid-cycle evaluation

Rosa Woolsey, News Reporter

To maintain its status as an accredited institution, Whitman is currently undergoing its mid-cycle evaluation. This accreditation is a marker of the quality of higher education institutions. 

Kendra Golden, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Biology, also serves as Whitman’s accreditation liaison officer. In an email correspondence with The Wire, Golden explained the significance of maintaining accredited status, prefacing it with the understanding that a withdrawal of accreditation would occur in declining stages. Whitman has never been at risk of descending in status. 

“Maintaining accreditation in good standing is absolutely critical. Without accredited status, an institution is not eligible to receive federal funds of any sort. This includes financial aid, as well as grants from federal agencies. In addition, most scholarships state explicitly that they can only be used at accredited institutions. If Whitman were not accredited, it would not be able to receive CARES funds that are part of federal COVID-19 relief,” Golden said. “Accreditation is a statement of the overall dependability, consistency and quality of the education students can expect to receive at an institution.”

The process of accreditation is carried out by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). According to the NWCCU website, in order to receive accreditation status, institutions must “Meet the Eligibility Requirements, Standards for Accreditation, and Policies that NWCCU has adopted.” These standards fall under two broad categories: “Standard One – Student Success, and Institutional Mission and Effectiveness” and “Standard Two – Governance, Resources, and Capacity.”

Golden specified these criteria, describing the focus of the mid-cycle evaluation specifically on student learning and the effectiveness of assessments.

“Broadly, colleges and universities must show that they are fulfilling the mission of the institution…Further, schools must show that they are assessing student learning,” Golden said. “Fulfilling student learning outcomes is a major piece of evidence that an institution is fulfilling its mission, and is thus worthy of maintaining accredited status.”

Whitman is midway through an evaluative cycle which includes three different stages of assessment. 

“The process of accreditation is a seven-year cycle, and there are three touch points with our regional accrediting body (NWCCU) during those seven years,” Golden said. “The touch points will be at Mid-Cycle, Year Six and Year Seven. Whitman is at Mid-Cycle, or year three, right now.”

Provost and Dean of the Faculty Alzada Tipton is a member of the assessment committee that oversees the accreditation process. Tipton spoke to the significance of this particular touch point.

“The Mid-Cycle evaluation is meant to prepare us for success in our summative evaluation in Year Seven. So it is a check-in, just see how we are doing and give us some suggestions about things we want to think about in the upcoming years before our Year Seven accreditation visit,” Tipton said.

The specifics of the evaluation process are dependent upon what stage of the cycle the institution is at. Golden gave an overview of what happened in Whitman’s mid-cycle evaluation.  

“Two evaluators visit campus (they did so virtually this year) and spend one full day in interviews…the overall goal of the Mid-Cycle evaluation is to determine whether the institution is well-poised to have a successful Year Seven review,” Golden said. “If all is well, the institution can simply carry on, but if not, the evaluators can give suggestions, and the institution has time to correct course before Year Seven comes around.”

Year Seven is the final, aggregate evaluation of the institution’s accreditation. Golden indicated what there is to expect in this evaluative process. 

“A large review panel visits [the] campus and interviews representatives from many campus constituencies. Year Seven is when NWCCU makes a determination about reaffirmation of accreditation, based on the evaluators determining whether the institution has substantially fulfilled its mission or not,” Golden said. “The Year Seven evaluation lasts about three days and covers virtually all aspects of campus – from the academic program, to buildings and grounds, to technical capacity and resources, to financial resources, to the co-curriculum, to residence life, and other aspects of the campus.”

Looking towards the final Year-Seven evaluation, Tipton reflected upon the significance of accreditation status.

“We must maintain our accreditation, in order to allow students to be eligible for federal financial aid,” Tipton said. “Accreditation is also a strong expectation of students and family as a representation (among others) of the quality of the education offered by Whitman.”