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UCLA wins reaccreditation with high marks

After an exhaustive six-year examination of UCLA’s commitment, plan and capacity to improve teaching and learning, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) has reaccredited the university and commended UCLA “for the exemplary way in which it has engaged each stage of the accrediting process.”

Hundreds of faculty, staff and students participated in the intensive, three-step process by serving on committees, writing reports and essays, gathering institutional data and talking with WASC reviewers in formal and open meetings on campus. Leading the massive effort, which started at UCLA in 2004, was Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Education Judith Smith, who served as accreditation liaison officer.   
Janss Steps fountain
Photo by Stephanie Diani
“Accreditation indicates that UCLA meets high standards of quality, capacity, and effectiveness,” Chancellor Gene Block said in a letter on UCLA’s reaccreditation website where all reports and documents can be found. “UCLA is proud to have been accredited by WASC since March 6, 1949, and I am pleased to report that, having successfully completed a rigorous three-stage review process, UCLA has once again been reaccredited.”
As part of the process, UCLA submitted an institutional proposal that identified three major themes by which it will advance the effectiveness of teaching and learning. Once the proposal was approved by WASC, campus leaders embarked on a plan to meet these goals: to shape undergraduate education by giving students a capstone experience, to facilitate interdisciplinary education and research, and to enhance student learning through instructional technology.
“These and other outcomes will continue to guide UCLA’s educational improvement efforts during the next decade and beyond,” Block said.
In his June 29 letter to Chancellor Block, Ralph A. Wolff, president and executive director of WASC, praised the university’s proposal as being “exemplar of how a research university might use the accrediting process for meaningful inquiry and improvement.”
As part of the process, WASC requires that campus departments define measurable learning outcomes for students and outline a straightforward way of assessing whether students have met faculty expectations.
“We decided to take a very strategic approach,” Smith explained. Instead of basing learning outcomes on the entire curriculum, departments with capstone majors are basing them on the capstone projects. Departments without capstone majors will anchor their learning outcomes to the curriculum. Staff and faculty with experience in identifying learning outcomes for their departments will be available to assist their colleagues with the process.
To make this a deliberate, thoughtful exercise, departments were put on various schedules so that in three years, all academic departments will have produced outcomes that will be published online. At the end of 2012, said Smith, “we will begin working with departments to assess these learning outcomes.” Starting in two years, the assessment will be incorporated into departments’ eight-year reviews by the Academic Senate.
Despite the fact that UCLA had not completed the learning outcomes requirement by the end of the review, WASC decided not to require the university to undergo an interim review as it did UC San Diego and UC Riverside, two other UC campuses undergoing reaccreditation in this same cycle. It’s not uncommon for universities to have three interim reviews as WASC continues to ask for more reports and data, Smith said.
“I think because we have been so deliberate and have engaged the faculty in an effective way, WASC recognized that in not scheduling us for an interim review,” Smith said, a process that would have further prolonged reaccreditation.
Reaccreditation will come up anew in 2016 when UCLA will start work on the next institutional proposal.
But it’s Smith’s hope that by then, WASC will have shortened the six-year process. Smith and other UC administrators who are also liaison officers met with the executive director for WASC in June to explain how burdensome the process is currently. One regional accreditation agency reviewing campuses in the southern region of the country has a three-year process.
“They have a process that seems to work well. We asked if there couldn’t be a fast track for larger universities that have had no academic difficulties,” Smith said. “I don’t know that this is going to happen, but it’s my hope that WASC will consider it.”
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