Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Accreditors Visit Whitman Campus

From April 15 through 17, representatives from Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), an accreditor for institutions of higher education, visited Whitman’s campus to conduct its Evaluation of Institutional Effectiveness. The visit occurs every seven years and determines whether Whitman remains an accredited institution. During the visit, the accreditors met with students, faculty and staff and were provided with data gathered by the college’s assessment committee, a group of faculty and staff.

Though accreditors only visit campus every seven years, important work is being done throughout the cycle by the assessment committee. Senior Associate Dean of Students and two-time assessment committee member Juli Dunn explained that the committee is gathering information for the full seven years.

“You spend seven years putting stuff in the portfolio, someone comes to campus and looks at the portfolio on year seven, and then you start all over again,” Dunn said.

Into that portfolio goes survey results and information from course evaluations, among other data. Another member of the assessment committee, Director of Enterprise Technology Mike Osterman, shared what he thinks is one of the lesser known sources of information.

“I don’t know if students know that faculty will actually assess their own courses as part of this process,” Osterman said. “Faculty will choose particular courses in particular areas of say distribution or major requirements and reflect on how that course [went]. What are some things they want to keep doing [or] stop doing.”

The NWCCU evaluates Whitman and other schools based on how well they are fulfilling their missions. This then determines whether or not a school remains an accredited institution. Accreditation Liaison Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Sociology Helen Kim is Whitman’s Accreditation Liaison. In her role as the main point of contact between Whitman and the NWCCU, Kim emphasized the importance of accreditation in an email to The Wire.

“If you are a transfer student, colleges and universities typically only accept transfer credits from accredited schools,” Kim said. “Receiving a degree from an accredited institution matters greatly when you leave college, and signals to employers and graduate programs that you are coming from an institution that provides a high-quality education. Students should also know that they can only qualify for federal and state grants and federal student loans at institutionally accredited schools.”

Kim reported being happy with how this year’s visit went.

“I feel our Year Seven re-accreditation visit went extremely well. We had broad engagement from students, staff and faculty. People really participated by reading the materials and showing up to open forums. It is often a struggle on college campuses to get this kind of participation, which is so crucial to the accreditation process. I was very, very grateful and pleased that so many people participated in a deep way,” Kim said.

This is in line with what Osterman described as particularly important to this accreditation cycle.

“One of the things that was a meta goal for this group was just making the process as transparent and accessible to everyone on campus as possible,” Osterman said.

Dunn also emphasized student participation as a highlight of the visit.

“I think the students did an incredible job of coming out to the open forum for students … I think the accreditors were actually kind of gobsmacked … I think they’d go to a lot of places and maybe very few students show up. But we had students show up. And I think that’s super important in the process because ultimately, their main focus is student learning. [The best] people to talk about what they’re learning are the students who are doing the learning,” Dunn said.

First-year Shira Nudler explained that she heard about the accreditation visit through her work at Penrose Library. 

“I think, really, the only reason I know about it was through work. I think that if my manager had not told me about it, I would have not known that it was happening,” Nudler said. 

Despite the assessment’s committee’s positive view on student turnout, Nudler didn’t feel that students were very informed.

“I feel like some people know a little bit more than me, but I think for most people that I’ve talked to about [accreditation], they kind of don’t really know what it means. I’ve had a couple conversations over the week about the accreditation with students, and I think a lot of us just understand it in a very broad way of a ranking for the school that gives us funding and gives us an opportunity to exist in the school and have our degree be worth something,” Nudler said.

It will still be some time before the NWCCU officially renews or repeals Whitman’s accreditation, but Dunn made clear that she’s not worried. 

“Whitman certainly wasn’t at risk for losing their accreditation,” Dunn said. “Let me make that crystal clear.”

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