Washburn seeking reaccreditation

ReAnne Utemark

The reaccreditation of Washburn University will culminate with a visit from the creditors of the Higher Learning Commission, but the visit has been a long time coming for many involved with the reaccreditation process.

“Right now, we are arranging face-to-face visits with people on campus in addition to the open sessions,” said Donna LaLonde, dean of the university honors program and a member of the self-study steering committee.

LaLonde said the self-study was in the making for several years before the physical visit this May. Several subcommittees were appointed to help respond to the criteria established by the HLC for accreditation. After the subcommittees received results from an initial survey of campus-wide feedback, they found supporting evidence and presented their completed chapters to administration. The document underwent multiple revisions and was presented to the public in October 2007. After the committee received the final comments, a writing team finalized the self-study report.

The representatives from the committee said much of the data was evaluated by outside sources. This is not out of the ordinary, though some of the university’s data, including financial, is audited by federal entities.

The committee finished compiling the self-study report in March and released it in both electronic and hard copy form. The study evaluated five criteria: mission and integrity; preparing for the future; student learning and effective teaching; acquisition, discovery, and application of knowledge; and engagement and service. The creditors, who will arrive May 5-7, will be assessing Washburn University and the statements made in the self-study. Assessors, who are administrators and faculty from colleges and universities similar to Washburn, will meet with Washburn administration, the academic deans, the interim deans, Washburn Student Government Association executive staff, distance education students and others. LaLonde also said the evaluators would also meet with the director of international programs, Baili Zhang, because of the rapid growth in the international programs.

“We’ve identified that as an area we are proud of in terms of growth and sending students abroad and bringing students here,” said LaLonde.

LaLonde also added that the increase in faculty-led international travel experiences led to more interest in international program.

Last time the university was up for reaccreditation, some issues were brought up in regard to Mabee Library and student assessment.

“As an institution, we’ve responded robustly,” said LaLonde.

There is a university assessment committee that is reflective of all units on campus, including the Washburn Student Government Association and student life. This committee is charged with reviewing and guiding the university assessment. Assessment particularly addresses the goals for general education and whether they are being met or not. Departmental liaisons are charged with completing an annual assessment which includes learning objectives, methods for fulfilling those objectives, analysis of data and any changes that were made over the past year. The assessment has gone online to share what departments are doing across campus.

There will also be evaluations of the Washburn Transformational Experience as a culminating experience. The Collegiate Learning Assessment an external, national exam, used to assess general education, was piloted this year. Freshmen took it in the fall and seniors took it this spring. LaLonde said she was impressed with the information it provided.

“That’s the whole intent,” said Melodie Christal, director of institutional research, about the process. “You’ve been doing stuff all along to be a quality institution, you’re not going to change much in two years.”

The steering committee was confident about the study and the visit. LaLonde said that they felt fairly confident about the integrity of the institution. They do not anticipate the fiscal problems or the major management problems that can cause a university to lose its accreditation.

“We think we meet the criteria,” said Nancy Tate, associate vice president for academic affairs. “But we also think that they will offer us suggestions for how we can do things better in some areas.”

The committee encouraged students to come and participate in the process. While the accreditors are on campus they may ask students questions, such as if they know what the mission of the university is, what are the strengths of Washburn University, how does the university promote ethical conduct and how they feel about the campus environment. There are more potential questions, and if students have questions they are encouraged to contact members of the steering committee. There will be an open session for students at 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 6, in the Kansas Room during the visit.

For more information on the self-study and to view the document, visit www.washburn.edu/self-study.