Accreditation visit shows praise and flaws

Sonoma State University was under the microscope last week. And, no it had nothing to do about media attention and the recent North Bay fires.

From Tuesday through Thursday, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges was on campus, meeting with students, faculty and staff in order to reaccredit Sonoma State as a university.

The group scheduled five meetings throughout the three-day visit with different groups of people across the university. WASC held the first few general meetings on Tuesday; one with undergraduate students, one with faculty and one with graduate students. The last general meeting was on Wednesday with the staff. The final meeting was held on Thursday, which was open to the campus, and was about the team’s findings and recommendations.

 “The meetings were really well attended,” Accreditation Liaison Officer Karen Moranski said. “We were able to communicate really effectively despite the fires. Even though it was a process where we were behind on, a lot of people showed up, which shows that our community is very supportive of the institution and has a positive outlook on the future. It really impressed the committee and they mentioned it in the final meeting.”

 WASC shared some of its findings in the last meeting, which included both praise and places to improve. The positive commendations praised Sonoma State’s freshman and sophomore learning communities, the sense of community on campus, the student-centered environment and the integration of the Green Music Center and academic life. Their recommendations address the need for programs that assess student learning, diversity issues, the IT system and use of technology on campus.

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“The visit went really smoothly. We had enormous participation by students and faculty and staff…We have no indication that it went badly,” Moranski said. The final report from WASC will not be released for several weeks.

Since 1969, Sonoma State has gone through the accreditation process every few years, the last being in 2010.  The WASC does this process, which is one of the seven regional accrediting bodies in the United States, and its job is to ensure that every university in the seven most Western states are up to the standards of higher education. 

“Going through this process and receiving accreditation from WASC ensures that quality and rigor are present in the education programs of our university,” Moranski said.  “The main benefit is we engage in a process of self-reflection on our quality and rigor.”

The lengthy four-step process started back in February. The first step is to produce an institutional report, in which the university writes to the standards that WASC has for higher education. The report consists of nine components, which demonstrate how the campus meets the WSCUC Standards.

“Dozens of people were involved in the writing of the report, and hundreds of people were involved in the visit and the sessions. It’s a very collaborative process,” Moranski said.

The second step is to meet with a team of peer evaluators, who are faulty and administers that have read the report. this meeting occurred on May 2,. According to Moranski, this group comes up with questions, based on the report, that are called lines of inquiry. 

“From this meeting we got five lines of inquiry, these tell us areas where there is work to be done, where we face challenges or new opportunities,” Moranski said. The five lines of inquiry for this reaccreditation process are: institutional identity and distinctiveness, program review and assessment, budget process, strategic planning and diversity.

Throughout the spring and the summer seasons, WASC asks for documents and reports that will help them understand those areas from the lines of inquiry for their visit. Finally, they schedule a onsite visit and evaluate the university.

Once the visit concludes, WASC writes a report for the university that states if the university has been reaccredited and when WASC is going to return for the next reaccreditation process, which is anywhere amoung five and ten years. 

The date of return is based off of how concerned WASC is about the university meeting their standards of higher education. The previous reaccreditation process for Sonoma State was in 2010. At this point, it is unclear when WASC will be back.