SUU In View (Alumni Magazine - Spring 2003)
Step by step, the accreditation process raises the university to a higher level
"We're in a season of accreditation!" President Bennion commented a few months ago during a Board of Trustees meeting.
According to the nearly 200 page Accreditation Handbook, accreditation is a process of recognizing an educational institution for performance, integrity and quality that entitles it to the confidence of the public.
Accreditation is conducted, ultimately, through the U.S. Department of Education, via various regional accreditation agencies. The standards of accreditation examine everything about an institution, from how it recruits to its basic policies and procedures. "In other words," Provost Abe Harraf explains, "they're evaluating how we do business. And, then their endorsement thereof, is like a license, if you will, for us to operate our business."
An effect of accreditation is almost always, change. And, in the long run, change is good. The Provost reports that already, changes have occurred in anticipation of site visits by agencies. For instance, one new idea the Provost is especially excited about is the forthcoming incorporation of an Industry Advisory Board for every college. Made up of leaders from many of the industries for which SUU is training students, each board will largely address curriculum issues, and how they relate directly to meet the needs of industry.
According to the Provost, the ultimate objective of accreditation is to help build "an ideal program that attracts quality students, and that requires reputation which is equivalent to faculty, programs and graduates who are sought after."
Different levels of accreditation are occurring in departments all across the Cedar City campus, but also, the University as a whole is in the midst of a comprehensive overall effort to reaffirm its accreditation with the Northwest Association of Colleges and Schools (NACS).
The University goes through a full accreditation examination every 10 years. In the spring of 2001, a main committee made up of 19 faculty and staff was appointed to steer the current NACS accreditation process. From there, several subcommittees were formed to address in meticulous detail, standards dealing with the institutional mission and goals; educational programs and their effectiveness; students; faculty; library and information resources; governance and administration; finance; physical resources; and institutional integrity. Collectively, these self-assessment teams are responsible for composing a 250- page study of the University that will be presented to the NACS accreditation team as the basis of its interviews to be conducted during a three-day on-site visit October 2003.
In October 2002, the Board of Trustees approved a vital part of the process-that is, the University's Strategic Plan, consisting of the school's vision statement, mission statement and list of strategic goals. These documents and updated details of the NACS accreditation process can be accessed at www.suu.edu/ad/accreditation/.
Without this overall accreditation by NACS, specific accreditations cannot be pursued. "One of the eight stated goals of the University is to seek specialized accreditation," Provost Harraf states. "We believe that these in particular are an investment in quality for our students, their employers and the University as a whole." Following are summaries of some of the specialized accreditation processes simultaneously going on at SUU.
Prent Klag, chair of the Teacher Education department, knows very well what accreditation is all about, as his department is knee-deep in the process of affirming it meets, if not surpasses, the standards of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the most prestigious of all teacher accreditation agencies.
Klag admits that despite its grueling requirements, the accreditation process has actually been a positive and productive exercise for the Department. "We don't view it (NCATE) as a beast, even though it may be!" Klag teases. "NCATE has inspired us to identify our strengths and areas that need improvement. It is clarifying how to hire the best faculty, how to compose and stay with a formal strategic, long-term plan for our entire program."
The NCATE accreditation process the Teacher Education department is pursuing is a new endeavor. And at the same time, NCATE is setting new standards to be met. Lee Montgomery, associate dean of the College of Education and associate professor of education, explains, "Engaging in the process of program review and assessment required for accreditation will lead to significant improvement in the quality of SUU's Teacher Education program."
Klag adds, "With accreditation, the bars have been raised on standards, and I believe this will be appreciated by students, especially in terms of their future."
The conceptual framework, Montgomery reveals, is one of the most significant aspects of NCATE. It is the underlying structure that sets forth a vision of the teaching unit and provides a theoretical and empirical foundation for the direction of programs; courses; teaching; candidate performance; faculty scholarship and service; and unit accountability. This portion of the process is comprised of five elements, including: vision, theme and mission; philosophy; professional commitment and dispositions; performance expectations; and, a system by which candidate performance is assessed.
Accreditation is important, also, because of what it means to the public. In an opinion poll conducted by Pen and Schoen, 82 percent of respondents favored requiring teachers to graduate from nationally-accredited professional schools. NCATE accreditation responds to the public's expectation of Colleges of Education to produce teachers and other school specialists who meet rigorous standards, and who can help students learn.
NCATE will be on campus in February and will render a final evaluation and decision in April.
School of Business
SUU's School of Business currently holds accreditation by the Association of Collegiate Business School and Programs (ACBSP), held for undergraduate and graduate programs for smaller schools. The School is currently completing a self-study for a reaffirming accreditation visit by ACBSP next fall.
David Christensen, professor of accounting, and department chair, who is serving on two accreditation committees, proclaims, "But we want to go big, and we're ready!" Thus, the School is pursuing accreditation by the Association of the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business, International (AACSB, Intl.), the prestigious agency which normally accredits only larger schools. Accreditation by the AACSB is a strong statement of how a school is doing compared to the upper echelon of business schools throughout the world.
The rigorous process takes five years of candidacy; SUU's School of Business is in its fourth year. Pre-requisites to pursuing accreditation included at least two academically-qualified faculty members in each program; assessment by employers, alumni and grad students; and a mission statement and clearly-defined learning objectives. A self-study will occur during the fifth year of candidacy (2003), and the peer evaluation phase will take place over the course of a year.
"This accreditation is becoming the standard for American business college programs," Christensen says, "and we're one of the smallest schools undertaking this goal. It's pretty unusual."
The Math Department received accreditation by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics last fall. Because accreditation requires demanding courses that teach applicable course material, students in the program receive a superior education. SUU's Math program boasts intellectually-demanding courses that are germane to the needs of today's classrooms. Potential employers are able to recognize that SUU math students come from a program that requires hard work and superior performance. When the Professional Education Unit in the Teacher Education Department is accredited by NCATE, the Math program will be recognized by NCATE as a nationally-accredited program within the Unit.
The University is beginning the second cycle of the National Collegiate Athletic Association certification process, involving a peer-review and self-study of its Division I program. This accreditation process happens about every 10 years. The program's goals of re-certification include: promoting awareness and education on campus and in various community constituencies relative to its role and mission; identifying areas which are strengths as well as weaknesses and creating a plan for improvement; certifying SUU is in compliance with NCAA regulations, particularly in the areas of Governance and Commitment to Rules Compliance; Academic Integrity; Fiscal Integrity and Equity; Welfare and Sportsmanship; and providing broad-based steering and subcommittees throughout the certification process. Dr. Sterling Church has been named chairman of the NCAA Athletic Accreditation Committee on campus. "We feel very good about our athletic program now," Dr. Church reports, "and our compliance to regulations."
Like his colleagues Klag and Christensen, Church certainly sees accreditation in the athletic area, too, as opportunity to gather input from the campus and community and thus, for improvement. He looks forward to the potential results of the process. The NCAA certification procedure is scheduled to be completed by April 2004.
The new Athletic Training program in the Physical Education Department of the College of Education has been approved for candidacy for accreditation by the Joint Review Committee on Education Programs-Athletic Training (JRC-AT). The process began in the fall of 2000. And, just this last fall, SUU received notice that the program has been recommended for a probationary period. During this period the Institution will prepare reports through a comprehensive self-study, proving itself properly equipped for full accreditation. The report is due from SUU in June 2003, and in the fall, a JRC-AT evaluation team will visit campus. From there, it is hoped that the JRC-AT will make recommendation by spring 2004 to the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) that the SUU Athletic Training program be accredited. Full accreditation is expected in the fall 2004.
Accreditation is a lot of things to many specialized units on the SUU campus. "It is a total quality management initiative; good for our students, good for everyone, really," Christensen states. "Accreditation means opportunity to be better, inspiration to change and a signal to all of our meaningful aspirations at this University."
Pursuance of accreditation by the University, and, of course the achievement of it, is a statement of philosophy and objective for the faculty, staff and programs of the Institution. For students and alumni, the process is a statement of superior higher education. For the friends and public, it is a statement of SUU's sterling reputation, purpose and influence on the community, state and beyond.
Provost Harraf eloquently concludes on accreditation, "It defines our destiny as a University."